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At Chester Zoo, where conservation rules

and breeding programmes thrive, there are three

Asiatic lions – two females

and a male, without progeny as yet –

in the old African lion compound,

one of Zoo’s first fairly spacious

enclosures. There is sand, grass, mature trees –

reflecting the creature’s historical range

from the Euphrates to the Indus,

from the Levant to the Bay of Bengal.

They have been hunted almost to death,

and are teetering on extinction’s edge

confined to a forest in Gujarat.


This trio, who have known nothing but zoos

and probably consider themselves human,

basks where most of their visitors gather.

A clang of the feeding station’s gate and their names

bring them instantly to their pristine power –

the deep growl, the agility, the heft –

as they grab and gnaw their share of carcass.


The kings of Nineveh kept them for hunting,

in the desert wastes of Northern Iraq,

a royal sport to impress their subjects,

and had their power immortalised by chance

in impeccable bas-reliefs of such

stylised realism.  Who would have thought

that lions might outlast kings!



Note: The poem was written in 2017. Chester Zoo, this year, has created a new enclosure for the lions – – @chesterzoo. The bas-reliefs are currently on display at the British Museum –

© Copyright David Selzer
1 Response
  • John Huddart
    January 2, 2020

    I enjoyed this meditation on extinctions. That there are three lions suggests wise men [and kings of course.} Though interesting also to compare the conservation of today, and the conservation for hunting of the ancients. We too like to see these beasts bring down their prey, and love our telly wildlife progs, where many a poor okapi, zebra and vildebeest gets a going over.

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