Friday, January 16, 2009

Affection Based

There's a book that came out a few years ago, called "Zamba: The True Story of the Greatest Lion That Ever Lived". Initially I was disappointed in the book because the book isn't all about Zamba the lion himself. But then I realized that for a number of reasons, this is an important book. I especially wish people who think that "wild" animals are purely instinct-driven and cannot be socialized would read the true stories presented in the book.

Ralph Helfer revolutionized the training of animals a half a century ago. His "affection-based training" has become the norm (in spite of what certain money-hungry political action groups would have us believe). Having spent time with both lions and tigers, I can say with complete confidence that what Helfer says in this book is correct: of course animals respond well to affection. I proved this myself with the wonderful experience of becoming good friends with a tiger that had been very afraid of people.

Zamba is another in a long line of animals that have become famous enough to help prove that there is no such thing as an inherently "wild" species of animal. How an animal behaves toward people depends largely on how well that individual animal has been raised and how well it knows people. This has been shown over and over: see also such books as "A Lion Called Christian" and "Little Tyke".

Just as early childhood development is so very important for people, the socialization of animals depends on the way the animal was raised. If they don't know people and don't know what to expect from people, then they are dangerous. Of course, uneducated people are dangerous to the animals as well. For example, no one should be allowed to approach a tiger without being taught how to say "hello" in tiger-ese. (It's really not that hard, and really very effective.) The artificial categorization of animals into "wild" and "domesticated" has to do with the level of ignorance or familiarity people have with the animals.

In our times, when people are more isolated from the rest of the animal kingdom than ever, and laws are constantly being passed that put more and more barriers between people and animals, our whole society needs the kind of education that Mr. Helfer is offering in this book. Just look at that cover picture. Really look at it, and think about the far-reaching significance of it.


  1. If you haven't already, you should read Susan McCarthy's "Becoming a Tiger." As a whole it's about the learning process of baby animals in the wild vs. in captivity, and many of the passages suggest that "killer instinct" is NOT inherent.
    There's a great one about an eagle cross-fostering a baby goose, and a captive-raised lion imprinting on a cattle dog and imitating the dog's herding behavior.

    I also wonder if you've heard of/visited the web site "the Daily Coyote," which chronicles a woman in Wyoming raising an orphaned coyote, Charlie. Great site, with a wonderful book by the same name having recently been published.

  2. I know of "Becoming a Tiger" but I have not read it yet. "The Daily Coyote" is new to me. Thank you for both suggestions. The more helpful input I get, the better I will be able to promote these ideas.