Zamba: The True Story of the Greatest Lion That Ever Livedby Ralph Helfer
When Ralph Helfer, now one of Hollywood's top animal behaviorists, first began working, he was shocked by the cruelty that was accepted practice in the field. He firmly believed in "affection training" that love, not fear, should be the basis of any animal's development, even when dealing with the most dangerous of creatures. Then Zamba came into his life
When Ralph Helfer, now one of Hollywood's top animal behaviorists, first began working, he was shocked by the cruelty that was accepted practice in the field. He firmly believed in "affection training" that love, not fear, should be the basis of any animal's development, even when dealing with the most dangerous of creatures. Then Zamba came into his life an adorable four-month-old lion cub that went on to prove Helfer's theories resoundingly correct.
Over the next eighteen years, Zamba would thrive and grow, and go on to star in numerous motion pictures and television shows all the while developing a deep and powerful bond of love and affection with the man who raised him. By turns astonishing, hilarious, and poignant, Zamba is not only the unforgettable story of the relationship that Helfer would come to consider one of the most important in his life but also that of the amazing career and adventures of the greatest lion in the world.
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ZambaThe True Story of the Greatest Lion That Ever Lived
By Ralph Helfer
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2006 Ralph Helfer
All right reserved.
I have spent my life living and working peacefully with animals. But one of my most formative learning experiences was an incident that ended with me in the hospital.
I was in my late teens. I was doing stunts and assisting other trainers with their animals, and I was offered a job as a stuntman for a Hollywood studio. They asked that I work an adult male lion on a pedestal, just as is done in the circus. They wanted him to snarl and swipe at me a few times.
I told them I'd be happy to, but for one problem: I had no lion. I said thanks anyhow and hung up.
Later that day the studio called again. They said that they'd found a lion. The man who owned him would be out of town for the day of the shoot, but he knew of me and felt I could do the stunt. He said that the lion, who was called Rex, was old and would respond to certain basic commands. The handler who'd be bringing Rex to the shoot could tell me everything I needed to know.
I could hardly contain my excitement. I had been obsessed with lions since childhood, and I held them in the highest esteem, more than any other creature. To me they represented the best that nature had to offer. Their regal attitude, proud stance,strength, and dignity always made me feel I was in the presence of royalty, and I felt a real spiritual connection to them -- I felt called to work with them.
I have always been convinced that very real communication between humans and animals is possible, and I was sure that working with a lion was my own key to that interaction. But at that time in my career I hadn't yet set foot in an arena with any animal, let alone with a lion. And this job wasn't the way I had imagined my first solo interaction with a lion would be. I knew that this animal had been "fear trained," and working with an animal that had been tamed with cruelty and violence went against all my principles. I also realized that it had the potential to be very, very dangerous.
In spite of my reservations, the studio made it hard to refuse the job. They said I was just the right size, and they offered me a good deal of money. Times were rough. I had acquired a number of small animals -- raccoons, opossums, kinkajous, a red-tailed hawk, and a small mountain lion -- and my expenses had escalated. I reasoned with my conscience: after all, I hadn't had anything to do with the lion's training, and I certainly wouldn't be hurting him. In fact, it could be the other way around. I accepted.
The hard part was telling my girlfriend.
"Ralph, you're an idiot! This is an incredibly stupid thing to do. You don't know the lion, and he's never met you. You can't get instructions from some guy five minutes before you go into the ring to work a lion."
"The trainer said it won't be a problem, and I really need the money."
"We don't need it that badly. You're going to get yourself killed."
Sweet, athletic Laura had helped me build my small collection of animals. We argued for hours, until she finally gave up on me.
"Go ahead -- kill yourself. Enjoy your short career."
In my heart, I knew she was right. But I needed the money, and I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. Although I didn't agree with the methods of trainers who used fear, I had seen what they did and how they did it, and I felt I could mimic their commands. I didn't need to abuse the animal -- I was just going to be following the directions I was given, issuing commands that the owner had trained the lion to respond to years before. The handler who accompanied the lion would tell me what to do and how to do it, and I'd be home by lunch.
On the day of the shoot, when I arrived at the studio I noticed a pickup truck and trailer parked near the entrance to the big soundstage. Actually, it wasn't the pickup I noticed so much as the enormous African lion pacing in a large portable cage nearby, jaws dripping with saliva. A man dressed in a pair of well-worn jeans, a striped Western shirt, cowboy boots, and a broad-brimmed hat stood near the cage. The telltale string coming out of his shirt pocket meant he was carrying a small bag of "Bullderm" chewing tobacco.
I introduced myself and asked how the lion was feeling. The handler cocked his hat back on his balding head and said, "Well, okay, I guess."
"You guess?" I questioned.
"Well, yeah, a bit restless, but ... "He hesitated. "He's okay."
A squirt of tobacco juice landed on the ground near me. "When do these people pay us?" he asked.
I'd seen this type of guy hanging around the barns at some of the animal compounds. He was a mess of uncouth habits and flaunted his couldn't-care-less attitude.
"I think they'll pay by check in about a week," I said.
Another stream of spit hit the dirt.
I saw the situation for what it was. This fellow needed money, and he'd let me work the lion -- even if it was unsafe -- just to get it. I felt a strange sensation in my stomach. But I didn't back out. In the next two minutes he told me all that he knew about Rex, which was how to get him to sit on the pedestal, cuff at me with his paw, and snarl.
"That's it," he said.
"That's it -- no big deal."
"Has he ever been handled?"
"You mean touched?"
I nodded yes.
"Are you crazy? He'd kill you!"
My opinion of this guy sank even lower -- and my nerves weren't improving ...
Excerpted from Zamba by Ralph Helfer Copyright © 2006 by Ralph Helfer. Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Ralph Helfer is a well-known Hollywood animal trainer who was one of the first to use affection and kindness to train wild animals. He is the author of The Beauty of the Beasts, and he lives in Los Angeles and Kenya, where he leads safari tours.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Zamba was an okay book, but I think that the title kind of gives the reader the wrong kind of message. It seemed, to me, that the novel was about Ralph Helfer rather than Zamba himself. And it sounded really braggy to me, the way that he talked about HIM starting affectionate training, about how because of his affectionate training the lion and his other animals did this or that, all because HE thought of it. It kind of says that throughout the entire novel, and nothing really to do about the lion himself. I also didn't like how Helfer kind of skipped around, it kind of ruined the story. The way he left out Zamba's life as a cub, and how he would only explain certain events. . . I don't know, I really didn't like his format. The book wasn't really a tribute to Zamba, it seemed as though it was a tribute to HIMSELF. An okay, but kind of boring book. A dissapointment, from my point of view. Modoc was far better, I must say.
This book was one I saw on the self of the bookstore, saw the picture on the cover and thought I would check it out. I could not put it down. I laughed, I cried, I bit my nails in anticipation! I have never read anything so touching. The author really made me feel as if I was right there with him and Zamba. I even read this book to my son who enjoyed it as much as I did. A beautiful story about just how much we all can learn from being nice to eachother. A MUST read for anyone, any age!
The beginning to Ralph Helfer's story is definitely not how you would expect the life of a lion trainer's to begin. Ralph's first encounter with a lion, was not one to be forgotten... Well at least getting attacked and mauled by an angry, poorly trained lion would be something that would never leave my memory. Even after this horrifying episode, Ralph's love for animals grew even stronger. Throughout his life, he was constantly with and around animals. One day he received an incredible phone call, and his life took a turn in an entirely new direction. This moment was one he had been waiting for his entire life, he was now on the right track in order to achieve his lifelong dream of raising a lion. He found out there was a lion cub in desperate need of a home, and he knew he was just the person for it. It wasn't long after the 2 month old lion cub met Ralph, that he knew he was at home. The lion was named Zamba. Ralph had been developing a new philosophy of training animals called, "affection training". It was based off of love, instead of fear because Ralph had experienced first hand the outcome of a fear trained lion. This affectionate training method contributed to a long, absolutely sensational, and essential relationship between them. For the next eighteen years, Zamba lived with Ralph, yes, in the same house. It is absolutely amazing to me that an animal so strong and powerful can be trained to behave the same as a mellow house cat. Zamba was in the pages of magazines, seen on television, and even motion pictures. With numerous stories ranging from hilarious to incredibly sad, Zamba is an amazing book that without a doubt, NOT a waste of your time! You will not be disappointed by this phenomenal story!
If you are an animal lover, you HAVE to read this book..everytime I'd read a sentence or finish a chapter I wanted to read it all over again..I cried and laughed while reading this book. I felt a real connection to Zamba himself, as if I knew him personally. As if he was my lion..The love Ralph has for animals is the love I have animals as well. If you also have it, you will find yourself agreeing with everything Ralph believes. To make it short and simple..You just HAVE to read this book!!!!
This is one of the most pleasant surprises I have come across....I loved this book from beginning to end. It is a timeless tale of love, affection, and mutual respect that lasts a lifetime. I could not put this book down. Anyone who wants an easy read this summer should definitely read it!!!