The completed Lioness Reflection painting recently appeared in a Serengeti Day installment of Wildlife Art Journal protesting the proposed commercial highway through the Serengeti National Park. My accompanying statement:
“I observed this lioness one afternoon close to my small campsite in the northern reaches of the Serengeti, near Bologonja. She had just made a careful, but ultimately failed attempt to ambush a young wildebeest that had strayed from the edge of the Great Migration. Lions fail far more often than they kill, but something about her posture–an attitude that I worked to convey in my painting–tells me just how much of a survivor she is. She may fail time and again, but she’ll keep trying until she provides for herself, her cubs, her pride. That’s just one of the things about lions that I find so inspiring.
Painting this lioness in the studio day to day transported me back to the Serengeti– and to the emotions that I experienced when I was immersed in one of the few places where one can get a clear idea of what the earth must have been like during the Golden Age of Mammals. I divide my field work these days between two Serengetis: East Africa’s–the last great stronghold of the world’s megafauna– and the lost ecosystem of the American Great Plains, where bison once roamed in herds that were perhaps the greatest ever known to man. I recently stood on a hilltop in the midst of the western Kansas prairie, looking across a landscape completely empty of the vast numbers of large mammals that had roamed there until the mid-nineteenth century, just a moment ago in geologic time.
The proposed Serengeti Highway threatens to reduce the great plains of East Africa to a land just as empty and just as haunted by what might have been. America’s vast herds were lost before they could even be studied and understood, destroyed by men who did not appreciate the value of the natural world beyond their own blind and momentary greed. Today, we know better. This lioness cannot pause to reflect upon the future of her world– she can only work to feed herself. It is up to us to ensure that short-sighted greed will not prevail again. We must stand together to protect the Serengeti for present and future generations– and for the wild creatures that still call its majestic horizons home. ”
This piece is now in the collection of Mrs. Jackie West Cowden.