Raw and heartfelt in every aspect, Last of the Free by Gareth Patterson is both an elegy of the three lion cubs that he is tasked with raising as well as a eulogy for lions who have died untimely deaths. The writing is not a comprehensive narrative of the cubs, Batian, Rafiki, and Furaha, left behind in the wake of the death of lion conservationist George Adamson. But it does present an idea of their everyday lives and also blends in the author’s feelings and perspective on wildlife conservation and the state of affairs during the late 1980s and early 1990s in southern Africa.
At 256 pages Last of the Free is fairly short, but the author manages to thoroughly illustrate how lion conservation, trophy hunting, and ‘wildlife utilization’ on public and private lands is occurring. Much of this is still relevant today and presents a powerful reminder of the struggle faced by hunters, farmers, pastoralists, conservationists, and regular citizens in finding a way of life alongside Africa’s tremendous natural resources that bring in billions of dollars in tourism revenue. Anecdotes from Patterson’s work alongside other people, local communities, as well as lessons learned from his mentor are sprinkled throughout the book. Some of the author’s poetry is also included, as are some diary entries made by his girlfriend.
Some readers may find the style of writing in Last of the Free to be less professional and at times distracting from the main theme, but ultimately Patterson’s goal is to highlight the lives of wild lions and the way that the wilderness is changing for the benefit of humans and to the detriment of lions when there could be a balanced coexistence instead.
Reading about certain aspects of the lions’ lives and their discovery of their role in the Tuli ecosystem of southern Botswana could be uncomfortable for some readers. But for the most part Patterson refrains from writing visceral descriptions, while illustrating a reality that is appropriate of wild animals learning and behaving as nature intends them to.
Through Last of the Free readers experience a true unreality: a world where lions have become locally extinct and lion cubs must be raised by man in the ways of one of the largest and most formidable predators on the African continent. This is just one element of the realities of the modern world that Patterson has to share with us and he examines other aspects in the several other books that he has authored. It’s highly encouraged that readers invest in not just one book by Patterson, but select two or more of these easy reads based on the topics that they cover and the stories that he shares. This will provide more details about Patterson himself, his beliefs that are central to the way that he works with wildlife and local people, and the stories of the lions, elephants, and other species that he has protected.
This book is available in both paperback and e-book (Kindle) formats.
Other true stories that will draw readers in are Lawrence Anthony’s books about his own conservation experiences, among them The Elephant Whisperer and The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures. The are stellar memoirs that are both fascinating and give insight into wildlife conservation and human-wildlife coexistence.
Readers who enjoy thoughtful books about the lives of wild animals should also consider reading Dame Daphne Sheldrick’s masterfully written Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story. The memoir recounts a significant portion of her life and work dedicated to conserving and rehabilitating elephants in Kenya. Additionally, Kobie Krüger‘s The Wilderness Family is a touching, vibrant view of the South African Lowveld as experienced by her game warden husband and their family living inside the world famous Kruger National Park in South Africa.