Book Review: Father of Lions

By the time he was eighteen, Imad had discovered an immutable fact: animals were better than people.

The war was at his door, the ISIS waited to behead him, and he was cooped up in his house along with his wife, and a lot of children. And none of those predicaments perturbed Abu Laith (Imad). What made him despondent was the inhuman condition of his Zombie (a lion cub), Mother (a lioness), Father (a lion), Lula (a bear), a bear cub, and many other animals who were stranded in Mosul Zoo during the war. How would he keep the animals alive? How would he even take a quick trip to the zoo to ensure that it wasn’t bombed? At the heart of Louise Callaghan’s Father of Lions: How One Man Defied Isis and Saved Mosul Zoo lies the truth that…

…good things come from being kind to animals.

The help arrived in the form of Dr Amir Khalil, a conflict rescue vet, who was as determined as Abu Laith to free the animals. But humans struggle to understand why anybody would risk their life to liberate a pack of wild animals when millions of humans were engulfed by the war. Humans ridiculed Dr Amir, threw funny glances at him, made the rescue process unnecessarily difficult for him, but people like Dr Amir, and Abu Laith always knew that one should not be coerced to choose between humans, and animals, and if hurdles were intentionally planted on their way, they would jump over them, come what may. There should be enough room on this planet for every sentient being.

If people cared for animals, they should care for humans, and if they cared for humans, they should care for animals. Kindness should not be divided.

A year ago, I was mixing food for Ramu, a stray dog whom I befriended on my cycling route, and for reasons which I still don’t fathom, Ramu growled, and held my hand roughly for a brief moment. Dogs understand, and wait patiently when their food is being prepared, but Ramu was going down the hill already. He couldn’t see that I was trying to help him. The way he held my hand felt like a bite, and I went to the nearest hospital to start the rabies vaccine course. The receptionist at the hospital quizzed me to gather information for a report, and he loudly wondered, “You tried to feed a stray, and the dog bit you. Why do people still do it? Life is busy, and hard as it is. Why do people create time for animals, and even let animals hurt them?” Next time when I come across that question, I am going to recommend Callaghan’s book as the answer.

Wherever humans suffered, animals suffered too. Their food, their care and their lives were almost always the first casualties of war: pet dogs left to starve because the owners had to feed their children, zoo animals abandoned when keepers fled from fighting.

Anu Boo – my dog – is my best friend. Every once in a while, when I stay awake until the darkest hour – 3 AM – of the night, I would be visited by a sort of anxiety that I know too well. “Am I equipped enough to protect Anu Boo if a catastrophe falls upon us?” I ask myself. I play several scenarios in my head, add layers after layers of what-ifs, and I reach for the answers impatiently as though walking through a maze. Sometimes, the answers are comforting. Sometimes, the answers are so inadequate that I punch the walls of the maze. And that’s why books like this one become important. They are written to tell us that it’s okay to love animals despite knowing that we will live longer than them, and to tell us that there are people like us, and they will see us for the way we hold animals in our hearts.

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