If you went to a circus thirty or forty years ago, you saw the "lion tamer" with his whip, chair, and gun. He would have a few lions, or maybe tigers or both. They would sit on short platforms, perform simple tricks, roar or snarl or swipe on command. Have you been to a large cat show in the last fifteen years or so? Perhaps Sigfried and Roy (before the recent mauling), or a similar show? They men or women with their cats don't call themselves trainers any more. What has changed (besides the 90's-00's tendency for ever-more extreme effects and hype)?
In large part, Ralph Helfer and others like him happened. He was one of the first "animal workers" to use kindness, affection, and bonding to make the animals he works with his colleagues. Frequently, a show—whether with big cats, birds of prey, or a menagerie of furry and feathery performers—will begin with someone explaining that no cruelty or coercion was used to train the animals. This is the influence of those who have shown us we can get better, and safer, results if the animals are motivated by pride and affection rather than by fear.
Ralph Helfer has presented highlights of his career with large animals in a series of books, first the Beauty of the Beasts and Modoc, and now Zamba: The True Story of the Greatest Lion That Ever Lived. Zamba was a nearly-weaned cub when a friend of Helfer's brought him to him. The cub had probably been driven from his mother by a new pride-leader male, before he was found, dehydrated and starving, and brought to the States. Helfer doesn't say for sure that Zamba was brought to him in 1948, but we find that Zamba died in 1966, and Ralph frequently states they were together for eighteen years.
Together! What a freighted word. Zamba slept in Ralph's bed, which had to be rebuilt once the lion became a 300-pound adult. He grew to 500 pounds, some nine feet long. Big! And he remained affectionate with humans. After Helfer married, and he and Toni had a little girl, young Tana was raised with one of the biggest "house pets" ever! The cover picture is Tana at Seven with Zamba, probably already in his teens (the author is quite cagey with several key dates).
Prior to meeting Zamba, Helfer had a bit of a career as a supplier of performing animals going. Zamba became his greatest star. Others include Gentle Ben the bear and Modoc the elephant, subjects of his other books.
Though the book is filled with hair-raising advenures, including a year Ralph and Zamba spent in Kenya working to make the film "Lion", the theme is affection training. Ralph Helfer has been for decades a leading voice, advocating bonding with animals, so that, whether they are performers or working animals, they work with their handler because they like to, they like or love the person, and wish to please him or her.
From a philosophical viewpoint, the way we treat animals (and our children) reveals much about us. Those who use fear to motivate, are themselves fearful. One cannot call a person "loving" who uses coercion and cruelty to get his way. The proverb says, "to have a friend, be a friend." I say, "Amen," whether the friend you desire is human or not. Thank you, Ralph.