Zamba: The Greatest Lion That Ever Livedby Ralph Helfer
One day, Ralph Helfer, a celebrated animal behaviorist, received a surprising phone call. His close friends had found a young lion near death by the Zambezi River in Zambia and had rescued him and brought him back to the States. Ralph had often spoken of wanting to raise a lion from a young age he had been developing a philosophy of training animals/b>
One day, Ralph Helfer, a celebrated animal behaviorist, received a surprising phone call. His close friends had found a young lion near death by the Zambezi River in Zambia and had rescued him and brought him back to the States. Ralph had often spoken of wanting to raise a lion from a young age he had been developing a philosophy of training animals based on love instead of fear, which he termed "affection training." Weeks later, Zamba, then a two-month-old cub, arrived. As Helfer peeked into Zamba's box, he saw a small lion cub tilt his head, wait a single beat, then amble right into his arms. Hugging Helfer's neck with his soft paws, Zamba collapsed on his chest, got comfortable, and fell asleep, their faces touching. They didn't move for the next two hours. Zamba was home.
For the next eighteen years, Zamba would appear in many motion pictures, on television, and in the pages of magazines. Along with Helfer's other famous animal actors including Modoc the circus elephant and Gentle Ben the bear Zamba proved Helfer's theories resoundingly correct, and affection training revolutionized the way animals are trained and treated in the motion picture industry. Through both happy and tough times the bond between Helfer and Zamba developed into the most important of their lives, and Zamba is now enshrined in Helfer's heart and the memories of moviegoers everywhere as the greatest lion that ever lived. With stories that range from the hilarious to the incredibly sad and poignant, Zamba will give any Lion King fan a new hero and touch every animal lover's heart.
- HarperCollins Publishers
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.93(d)
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ZambaThe True Story of the Greatest Lion That Ever Lived
By Ralph Helfer
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 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 © 2005 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.
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