the True Story of the Greatest Lion that Ever Lived
by Ralph Helfer
Ralph Helfer always dreamed of working with animals. From his beginnings as an assistant in a small pet store, he worked his way up to owning his own establishment, a ranch full of exotic animals which he trained and performed with in movies, commercials and other productions. Helfer believed that it was safer and more humane to train animals with affection, communication and trust rather than the fear, domination and force commonly used on large exotic beasts (like lions and tigers in circuses) at the time. He got his chance to prove his methods when a friend brought home a four-month old lion cub from Africa. Named Zamba, the lion was raised in Helfer's home (he even shared his bed!) and their bond of love and trust was complete. Zamba was the only lion trustworthy enough to perform in films with child actors. His remarkable story unfolds smoothly in these pages, full of laughs as well as sad moments.
Zamba was a really easy read. I finished it in a few days. I only wish I could have read more about training methods used to teach Zamba his special commands, rather than all the gushing about how much the guy loved his lion. While reading it, many other books came to mind. It made me think of Born Free, the story of a game warden in African raising a lioness, who was remarkably gentle with people. Of Here Keller, Train This!- about a man who trained big cats for the circus without using whips and guns. Of The Man Who Listens to Horses, because in that book the author was the first to use body language communication instead of brute force to tame horses (instead of "breaking" them). There is even a vivid scene in Zamba that strongly echoed a scene in Jane Yolen's fantasy novel Heart's Blood- if you've read that one, I'll tell you what it is (I don't want to write a spoiler).
Rating: 3/5 ........ 256 pages, 2005