Children of the Sun God by Linda Tucker Reprinted by permission.
Excerpt from Chapter 16: White Lions and Magic Men (Continued from Previous)
There was an awkward hiatus while I waited. Then the showmen entered, radiant after yet another successful conjuring spectacle. Disconcertingly, I realized all my memorized questions had dissolved in my head. They were shaking my hand and introducing me to various minders and publicists and artists from their show.
I was at a loss. The earnestness of the script I had prepared was entirely inappropriate. How could these manicured men shed any light on the profound evolutionary questions that had begun to emerge in the course of my research? What was I doing here?
I gained some comfort at the thought of Mauritz Basson's flattering letter, sent to the showmen by way of introduction, in which he had written in South African English that he 'would like to take this opportunity to introduce [them] to a lady that is almost as passionate about the big cats as Roy is! She is a South African with a Paris fashion modeling background and a Cambridge education and is at present writing a book [on] the White Lions of Timbavati which deals with the 'magic' of those white individuals....'
'White individuals!' Bless him. I had soon detected that the Johannesburg Zoo's animal handler never quite distinguished between animals and humans. And it was on this level of mutual passion that Roy and I reached an immediate rapport. I had been warned I had only fifteen minutes. Fifteen minutes? We could have spoken all night and all morning — this being Vegas — of our most passionate topic: big white cats.
We spoke about his visit to Timbavati, and how the wild felines had come to greet him and apparently kept guard outside his tent; we spoke about his introduction to Credo Mutwa, and how the shaman had seen straight through his and Siegfried's pretense at being anything other than showbiz personalities, and we spoke about his goals and visions for the White Lion breeding project.
At 2:30 a.m., over an hour later, we parted — after Roy had invited me to his and Siegfried's 'Secret Garden' later the same day. Feeling elated, I retired to bed, hoping to catch some White Lion-filled dreams. Standing outside the enclosure at around noon, I watched in rapt delight the first White Lions I have ever seen — an entire pride.
The performers' collaboration with the Johannesburg Zoo had resulted in three generations in their possession, and today the delicate exercise was to introduce these to one another. I was so overwhelmed at seeing the White Lions close up that my first request was to be allowed into the enclosure, but this was refused. Understandably, Roy was reluctant to allow a 'new element' into the arena....
There were men standing among the lions, dressed in designer jeans and wearing sunglasses, watching attentively. One of these was Roy. Well into his fifties, he still moved like a panther. I had observed his intense bright eyes the night before, and a delightful lightness of spirit that only those in touch with an inner life-force exude.
I watched as Mystery approached him and rubbed his cheek against Roy's leg in passing en route to tackling his sister from behind a palm tree. Unshaken by the surprise tactic, his sibling returned the onslaught by chewing his ear. Vision tumbled off his rocky perch to join the fray. He had Mystery's tail in his mouth while Quest had hold of his tail. Mesmerized by this scene, I saw him bound over a rock, then stop short — while the daisy chain behind him collided in a mound of cavorting snow-white fur.
Through all of this frivolity, the full solemnity of the moment suddenly dawned on me: I was watching the world's last surviving White Lion pride at play....