Sun | Jun 26, 2022

Orville Taylor | Taming the lions among us

Published:Sunday | May 29, 2022 | 1:48 AM

A police officer once told a ‘Teflon don’, a man who kept escaping capture and charges, many times by the skin of his protruding front teeth, “You have to be lucky all of the time: I only need to get lucky once.” It is mathematics, if one keeps...

A police officer once told a ‘Teflon don’, a man who kept escaping capture and charges, many times by the skin of his protruding front teeth, “You have to be lucky all of the time: I only need to get lucky once.” It is mathematics, if one keeps doing wrong, it will come back to bite you one day. This is a general principle epitomised in the Jamaica proverb involving time and rope.

There is nothing that is funny about a man losing his finger to a lion, no matter how unwise his actions were in provoking the animal. Thankfully, it was behind bars in a cage so small that it and its cellmate have to go outside in order to change their minds. I have seen the animals at Jamaica Zoo several times, including twice this year, and was always unhappy about the size of the enclosure and the isolation of the males from females.

Lions are the only social wild cats and like all non-domestic creatures, they need to live in as comfortable a space that resembles their natural environment as possible. As a rule, a single adult male lives with a group of females, related by blood, along with his offspring, including infant or juvenile males. It is uncertain why the arrangement with one male being the sexual partner of multiple females is called a ‘pride’. But it fits the African stereotype. Interestingly, adult males, expelled from the pride on maturity, often form coalitions and keep their bonds, hunting and living together. However, usually these are brothers, not sexual partners, and have nothing to do with the human appropriation of the word pride.

Nevertheless, having two adult males, even if they are ‘bench and bench’, in a space as tight as the government’s budget creates a level of aggression that, if released, all hell breaks loose. Generally, male lions are naturally fearless. Whether with claws out or with their paws clenched in fists; they never back down. Always wild, even if hand-raised by humans, they are even more dangerous when they lose their fear of humans; realising how physically inferior to them we are. There is a deep sociological lesson to be learnt here.

CANNOT BE TAMED

Let me re-emphasise. Lions cannot be tamed and no matter how long ago you troubled them, they will remember and exact revenge as well. Brought to screen in the 1996 film, The Ghost and the Darkness, there was a pair of lions known as the The Man-Eaters of Tsavo in an eponymous book, who killed between 40 and 130 humans after one was shot to death by a European on the Uganda-Kenya railroad construction site in Uganda in the late 1890s.

According to the book written by Lieutenant Colonel John Henry Patterson, between them the lions killed “no less than 28 Indian coolies, in addition to scores of unfortunate African natives of whom no official record was kept”. Black, poor lives never mattered then either.

The Europeans underestimated the lions’ intelligence and creativity, which resulted in them being outwitted multiple times; with the lions seeming to taunt them after every escape, slaughtering more humans apparently for fun. Many of whom they killed were the African native workers and the contracted Indian labourers, who had not been given enough protection, secure living quarters or even appropriate weapons to repel the threat. Ultimately, the lions were killed, but only after the last lion killed one of the very senior members of the construction party, ironically, after they celebrated the cornering and elimination of what they believed was the last lion.

If you think that this column is merely about Panthera leo written by a frustrated biologist, then you are the next candidate to stick your finger in the lions cage or wherever you stupidly choose. Since January, we have seen an increase in the homicide rates by some 6.5 per cent. It might not seem much but the killings are becoming more brazen. As horrified as we have been about the multiple killings in St James just last week, the parish with a population of 186,000 has had 100 murders so far. Someone has been feeding the lions and has been taunting and empowering them. Even with the murder of Tabby Diamond we were not scared enough.

This time, against the run of play, a political candidate, looking to represent our governing party in the next local government elections, was killed in broad daylight in what looks like a surgical hit. Doubtless, the police officers from the Major Investigation Division (MID) will be able to point a finger (no pun intended) in the direction of the wild lion(s) who performed the execution.

Yet, over the last two weeks, I spent days in the House of Babylon and the workers on our railroad are discontented. They have the abilities to find the lions and put them in better cages. If these workers on the hate line have their issues respectfully addressed by their superiors in the Force and Parliament, they will be able to trap and neutralise the large felines. Any alternative to a motivated and respected constabulary is a recipe for disaster.

We are in a beast war and we do not need pusillanimous responses to crime and violence. Tigers are very much like lions, but they are bigger and more versatile. Importantly, they seem to dominate when their stripes are prominent. We need stripes on our big cats to match these wayward lions, and we cannot appear to turn our cops into pussycats.

- Dr Orville Taylor is head of the Department of Sociology at The University of the West Indies, a radio talk-show host, and author of ‘Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets’. Send feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and tayloronblackline@hotmail.com.