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Book Review: When the Last Lion Roars by Sara Evans

Sara Evans’ When the Last Lion Roars is a story thousands of years in the making, depicting the historic rise and fall of one of the planet's most iconic species. Inspired by the huge public backlash against the American trophy hunter who illegally shot and killed Cecil, a well-known Zimbabwean lion, Evans highlights the overwhelming perils that the world’s last remaining lions face but offers hope for their survival through stories of conservation and human unity.

The book is split into three broad sections. The first section discusses the spread of lion species across the globe in prehistoric times based on evidence supplied by the fossil record and early human artwork. The narrative then moves to explain how these lions have progressively disappeared from the world, leaving us with some 200,000 at the turn of the 20th Century. Evans expands upon this to show how human population growth, persecution and over-exploitation have left us with only a tenth of that population. Finally, after making it appear that the lion was destined for extinction, the reader is relieved to find that there is hope after all. In this section that Evans aptly names “People Love Lions”, we are presented with stories of dedicated conservationists that have helped stem the loss of lion populations. In the closing segments, Evans discusses the global outcry following the death of Cecil and how this tragic event has ultimately led to a more unified effort to save the lion. This leaves us with a vision of a future where these iconic big cats are preserved and protected.

From the early chapters Evans portrays her skill as an author by placing the reader within incredibly vivid visual settings. These can include recreations from her own life story, such as her first wild encounter with the king of beasts while on safari, or the imaginary tale of two cave lion cubs at play in some prehistoric landscape. This visual mastery, supported by her knowledge of the subject and clear passion for the species, ensures Evans’ latest book is utterly captivating.

Additionally, When the Last Lion Roars uses a diverse range of interesting source materials throughout, including early human cave paintings, colonial-era publications and modern scientific findings. These help form a clear picture of human involvement in the lion’s history and introduce numerous discussion points. Although essential for the narrative of the book, the extensive use of facts and figures sometimes interrupts its flow and, in some cases, may confuse readers from a non-scientific background. Despite this, the book is generally accessible to all types of reader and this small criticism should not act as a deterrent.

I would highly recommend When the Last Lion Roars, especially to those with an interest in carnivore conservation. However, reading this book will present the reader with some tough facts. Lions, like countless other species, are in decline because of anthropogenic activities, leaving us with only around 20,000 individuals scattered across several isolated populations. There were times when reading about the lion's decline that I felt that it was really doomed for extinction. Nevertheless, Evans finds a way of completely reversing this belief. Through tales such as the Lion Guardians of Kenya and the Living Walls of Tanzania, we are presented with evidence that dedicated conservationists can turn the tide on the lion’s extinction.

Matt Jones has recently graduated from Nottingham Trent University with a BSc in Wildlife Conservation and is currently studying for a MSc in Conservation and Biodiversity at Lancaster University. Matt is a budding naturalist and has gained field experience by working for conservation organisations across the globe. After his studies Matt hopes to pursue a career in large carnivore conservation, specifically relating to human-carnivore conflict resolution.


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