The Lion and a Pail of Cassava; A 2003 Kanda experience


I had never heard of a vegan lion until I saw one at the Kanda (Accra) zoo in 2003. On my baby niece’s day out with her father, she was approximately 19 months old, we went for a walk at the zoo.

And so it was. We were greeted by a couple of baboons making out in the full glare of visitors, missionary style, amid murmurs, giggles, and subtle encouragement from the bad up-and-coming!

It was fun to watch all these curious animals wondering what we the aliens wanted from them. As with every experience and outing, there is always a climax, and at the zoo, the climax is the visit to the den of the big cats. En route you’d pass by the leopard’s enclosure and the other felines.

I stopped dead in my tracks when I realised that the door of the leopard cage was pegged with a wooden wedge and covered with palm leaves, apparently, to protect it from the aggression of unruly visitors.

We backed up. Sarah was comfortably resting on my shoulders with her legs thudding my chest as we beat a retreat.

Past the other animals, we came to an enclosure where the camel inmate seemed as if it was suffering acute kwashiorkor. Some of the animals were really facing the horrible ordeals of hunger and neglect.

As we turned the corner heading to Lion Street we had to make a stop at Lucy’s cage. Lucy was one of the oldest chimpanzees at the zoo and the favourite of all. She had cataract and was almost blind in one eye.

When she died, a short biography was written about her in the newspapers.

Then there was a man dressed in a white three-piece suit walking like Haile Selassie between these exotic animals except that he wasn’t as kingly.

The chimpanzees would stretch their arms to cajole kind visitors into giving them some fruits.

The banana sellers made a fortune! One young chimp, impatient as all youngsters generally are, wrapped its arm behind its back and pooped in it.

Just as this well-dressed man taunted the chimps, a splash of fresh dung slapped onto his jacket giving it a hint of brownish-black polish. Now he looked, ermm, errr, shitty!

It served him right, after all animals deserve to be treated like, ermm,  “animals”!

Now, for the last lap, we eagerly came to the Lion’s den! To my utter shock, that feline was so haggard looking that its belly was firmly stuck to its spine.

Its eyes were round and had developed an almost European colour due to acute malnutrition.

I can’t say that it was on a hunger strike per se, but being on a vegan diet, it became fiercely wide-eyed, and rightly so, especially when it sawa big fleshy guy like me who came with an “eat one and get one free” combo (niece included)!

There is not a single story about paleontologists finding remains of lions that lived on a vegan diet, but after a few thousand years, they would find one that once lived in the Accra zoo.

It was such a shocking sight to behold as I watched a keeper shamelessly carrying a metal pail filled with boiled cassava that he threw into the den of the lion.

It sniffed the pieces and snarled. Just the thought of eating cassava boiled in what seemed like animal broth put it off.

Someone murmured something incomprehensible to the keeper, who replied that when it got hungry enough it would eat the food; and what unpalatable food it was for the lion.

I am still wondering, though, why it looked at me and licked its lips! Was it complaining silently?

Given the incident at the Achimota Zoo yesterday where a middle-aged man allegedly clambered into the enclosure of a lion and was mauled to death, many stories made the rounds that a lion had escaped.

I sure hope that it is not true, but I won’t rule it out since I have experienced firsthand the negligence of zookeepers.

If anyone tells you that they ate the meat that is supposed to be cooked for the animals do not be surprised because that is classified as bush meat, a delicacy to both animals and humans, alike.

Why would you be surprised, but haven’t you heard stories of nurses at the asylum hospitals eating the meat and serving inmates with food without meat or fish?

If our mentally challenged folks can be treated with such indignity, what can’t be done to animals at the zoo?

I find it difficult to believe that a sane person will dare enter a Lion’s enclosure except if they are mad or want to re-enact the Biblical/Islamic Daniel story!

Oh well, you and I were not there, but I would take it with a pinch of salt!

Such is our wickedness, so let nothing shock you! In Ghana everything is possible including Vegan Lions!

By Fadi Dabbousi


Nigerian women journalists trained in digital journalism

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