Thank you for visiting this page that is devoted to the book that has become affectionately known to some as ‘Lioness’.

How did it all start?

Well, on one of my visits to South Africa, I became fascinated with its amazing wildlife and decided that I wanted to do my bit for the animals of Africa and the conservation of some of the most amazing animals on the planet.

I searched the internet for organisations that could help me realise this dream and signed up to what was supposed to be a one-off experience, looking after lion and tiger cubs. I went to South Africa to care for the animals, and fell in love with a little lioness. And that is really how it all began.

Myself and my fellow volunteers loved the experience of being up close and personal with iconic wildlife, however small, of waking up to the roar of lions and of falling asleep to the low grunts of the older males who, even in captivity, were staking their claim to their territory and their females.

When I left after my first visit, I was curious as to how ‘my’ little lioness would grow up, how she would develop and so I returned to see for myself. I was reunited with a gorgeous young female who greeted me with a head rub and the bond that we had when she was very small, deepened during that second visit. That was the last time I saw her, but she is always in my thoughts.

During subsequent visits, I met other animals who stood out for some reason and who have a special place in my heart, as Africa does. Africa gets in your blood and I cannot imagine being away for too long, I regularly return to other countries on the continent, there is still so much to see and discover. What always has me firmly in its grip, though, is Africa’s spectacular wildlife and inside me beats the heart of a lioness.

Whilst the early experience with Africa’s wildlife in captivity seemed almost like living a dream, myself and my fellow volunteers have learned that life is not just a dream, it is made up of emotions like joy and sorrow, laughter and tears. We have experienced all of these emotions in our dealings with wildlife and some of the stories are detailed in ‘With the Heart of a Lioness’.

Life is a journey, full of discoveries, a learning process. I am very privileged to have had the opportunity to learn more about the big cats and the perils they face, not just in the wild, but also in captivity. I never imagined how this experience would change my life, I have become a passionate conservationist.

You will find a link on this website to purchase your own personal copy of the story. If you do, I sincerely hope that you will enjoy the read and, like the volunteers, come away with a new appreciation of Africa’s iconic wildlife that we need to treasure for generations to come.

Best wishes


About The Author

Ron is an office manager who currently lives in the United Kingdom but grew up on the European Continent and as a result is proficient in a number of languages, which helped greatly during the research for the story in making sense of documents that were not originally in English.

The author has been a cat lover since early childhood and is passionate about wildlife conservation, especially in regard to the big cats, which are severely under threat.  The volunteering experience has only reinforced this and Ron is keen on raising awareness about the plight of the African lion.


Extract 1

The afternoon before I was due to leave the farm I had spent some time in town, and while I was gone there had been a ‘chicken run’ on the farm. Volunteers were always encouraged to take part in it, although I never had, and mostly they would fight over the spaces that were available. The volunteers and some farm hands got in the back of a bakkie that was then driven into an enclosure full of hungry carnivores.
A load of chickens, sometimes more or less fresh from the supplier, sometimes about to go off, sometimes already green, lay around them.

The volunteers and farm hands would throw the chickens off the back of the vehicle to the lions that were eagerly awaiting their feed. Not only were the lions waiting, their acute sense of smell detected what was on the vehicle. They recognized the bakkie and volunteers as the source of food and would follow the vehicle and, if the chickens were not thrown down fast enough, try to climb or jump onto it to grab a chicken, or a volunteer. The only means that farm hands and volunteers had to keep the lions off them was banging the sides of the vehicle with their hands and loud yelling; on occasion rocks were thrown at the hungry and hapless animals. This became more and more dangerous as the lions closed in on the spot where their food was coming from. Jack would usually drive the vehicle and although he had a handgun with him to fire into the air to scare the lions back from the volunteers, he only had two hands, both of which he needed to drive. Normally the chickens and volunteers shared the back, with volunteers battling to find a place to stand and occasionally having no choice but to stand ON the chickens, slip-sliding around as Jack navigated the uneven terrain of the enclosure; sometimes a larger vehicle was used and the chickens were on a trailer. The drives into the camps of hungry lions and tigers, and sometimes into camps of ‘wild’ lions, were a considerable risk to volunteers that they were never really made aware of. They were also a grave risk to whichever poor farm hand had the unenviable task of opening and closing the gates to the enclosures. All too easily, something could have gone seriously wrong here. Again, a case of T-I-A?

I did not really know what to think of this. The volunteers who had participated talked about it with great enthusiasm, possibly fuelled by relief to have escaped with their lives. I began to see events like this with a warier eye, worried about the health and safety concerns and wondering what the future held for the farm, its animals and the volunteers. The fact that Jack was now at the farm virtually every day, taking more of an interest in the running of the place, and Brownie being pushy, wanting to throw her weight around and impress management, seemed to be what caused the change in atmosphere. It would not be too long before evidence of this emerged, causing utter devastation.

Extract 2

“… More disaster! The latest thing that’s happened is that our little Jack Russell, Roxy, managed to rip herself open. She was playing tonight and – don’t ask me how she managed to do it – caught herself on a twisted piece of the wiring that holds Rex and Sheba’s running lines in place on the lawn in front of the chalets. She must have tried to jerk herself free first and when that did not work, obviously panicked and raced around in circles, yelping and squealing.

By the time we got to her, the wiring had already wound itself quite tightly around her belly and it had started to cut into her flesh. We desperately tried to calm her down so we could cut her free. Finding something to cut the wiring with was a job in itself but George dug out something in the tool-shed that was usable. We then saw that she had torn quite a big flap of skin and muscle that needs stitching. It was a huge gash and she was bleeding profusely. She was screaming her head off, she was in so much pain and it looked awful! As usual, it happened at a time of day when we have no way of getting to a vet … I did my first aid bit, we sprayed the wound with some antibiotic stuff and I covered it as well as I could, only the bandage slipped … Oh, did I tell you that Tom is back again as well? He offered to have her in his room overnight so I’ve just advised him to keep her warm and quiet and leave some water for her.

I can’t even give her Metacam for pain relief because we don’t have any! There is nothing here in terms of pain relief, anti-inflammatories or antibiotics. Tom asked me to phone Jack who lives closest and tell him that he wanted to take Roxy to the vet. Jack said: ‘He can’t do that, don’t let him go.’ We looked at each other and were really confused.

I know that Jack does not like Roxy, she is not his and according to him, she killed one of the doves they used for weddings. I’m not sure if that is true but even if it is, you can’t deny an animal veterinary care when it is injured, simply because you don’t like the animal. There are no guests staying here at the moment so we can’t even ask a guest to give us a lift into town – all I could do is ring Jo, who has made an appointment for her at the vets tomorrow. She wants George to take Roxy and use a farm vehicle for which he needs permission on every occasion because – hah! – George then has to go to her house first and pick up some rubbish and stuff that needs to come back to the farm … I can’t believe it! Surely the rubbish can wait and the dog is more important??


I am furious! Jo didn’t turn up till 11.30 today so poor Roxy was in awful pain for something like 16 hours!! Tom spent the entire night on the bathroom floor with her, trying to ease her pain, stop the bleeding and trying to keep her as warm and quiet and hydrated as we could under the circumstances.

The vet needed to stitch the wound and underlying tissue. The stitches were done with non-dissolving sutures and this means that they will need to come out at some stage. I wonder when that will be. She still has the stitches from when she got spayed 18 months ago! And then she brings Roxy back from the vet and says ‘yeah she’s strong, give her a day away from the other dogs and oh, give her some milk’ … milk for pity’s sake!! Let’s just ignore the fact that she’s just had a general anaesthetic, is still groggy, systems won’t be working properly until tomorrow, is probably lactose-intolerant like most animals except baby cows, but hey milk will fix everything … SO not happy.

I’ve countermanded her orders and George backs me 100%. I might not be a vet but I’ve learned a lot about animal care and welfare in the last three years, and I’ve learned it from people who actually know what they’re talking about. The farm has been a learning process – I’ve learned what direction I really want to head in when I leave Africa, and I’ve learned that I’m not prepared to put up with crap animal welfare practices – I’ve got to live with my conscience, I’d rather not be a ‘yes’ person and I’d like to be able to sleep at night.”

Poor Roxy, I could not believe this and I was glad that Tom had been there to lend a hand with Roxy, who he really liked and who adored him, but I was also disgusted at the way the poor animal had been left for such a long period of time, bleeding and shivering in shock and pain. In most countries you would be charged with cruelty and causing unnecessary suffering to animals for this, but again, T-I-A. I vowed to give her a big cuddle once I got there; she was always so desperate for some encouragement and affection. She might never win ‘best in show’, but Roxy had a nice personality and I felt so sorry for her.

The day before my departure had finally arrived and that evening I left the office with a spring in my step. Full of excited anticipation, I set to packing up my belongings for the trip, blissfully unaware of the catastrophic events that were unfolding thousands of kilometres away and of which I would not hear until my arrival at the farm two days later.

  • A true, heartwrenching story that you must read! This is an amazing story.. . an emotional journey of someone who naively becomes captivated with the idea of caring for young African 'cats' at a refuge only to discover a more sinister business just beneath the surface. The author gives an emotional and troubling account of the dark side of an animal refuge center in South Africa that exploits the good intentions of volunteers and the general public for personal gain and the 'sport' of big game hunting. My heart breaks for the sweet animal souls who were featured in the book yet I am thankful to have read this book. I read the entire book in one afternoon . . . I couldn't put it down!

    18 Feb. 2016
  • Dieses Buch ist ein Augenöffner und sollte für alle Tierfreunde, die sich gerne für die Tierwelt (Afrikas) einsetzen, ein Muss sein. Aber auch solche, die sich nicht persönlich engagieren können, sollten wissen, was hinter den Kulissen vor sich geht. Sehr interessant und lesenswert.

  • With the Heart of a Lioness - Ron Thompson, I had to purchase from the publisher as Amazon has only just started to sell it at RRP. This book was first published 2015, but today people are still paying out good money to volunteer and care for orphaned lion and tiger cubs, so this book is valid more than ever. Unless you have done your research, you might well find yourself looking after animals whose sole purpose is being a commodity in a very sordid, money making scam. This excellent book shows how businesses are using cubs for petting, being walked with and then as they grow older, used for breeding or shot in the canned lion industry and their bones and skins sold, all for profit. Despite what some centres claim the animals are not orphaned, but removed from their mothers to be exploited by tourists and hunters. A true sanctuary will not allow physical contact with the animals. The book is well written and well worth the investment. It shows you in a way that you can understand the whole process, by the author who was there. This is reality with the highs and lows of wild animal breeding and owners whose real interest is the money to be gained. Within the pages you are provided the facts through vivid descriptions as well as spelling out the questions to ask, so that you can make an informed choice. It’s your money and it might be your life that is on the line. It describes a “cub-mill that churns them out [cubs] like hot cakes, to line the pockets of a few people.” So if you have one ounce of compassion for wild animals, you will not become part of the industry. The blurb on the back cover actually sets out precisely the books contents. “For anyone who is keen on conservation, the opportunity to go and work with big cats and handle and help to rear orphaned cubs to prepare them for release into the wild seems like a dream come true. This is the account of the experience of one such person, who paid good money for the privilege but came increasingly concerned at the practices observed. Over the course of several visits it became clear that far from conserving the species, this was a cynical ploy to make money by providing cannon fodder for the trophy-hunting industry, exploiting the good intentions of the volunteers who came to help care for the animals.” You will also discover that it is not all doom and gloom as there are proper facilities out there doing a good job. You are guided to find out more through the following links. http://www.bloodlions.org/ http://www.cannedlion.org/ https://engb.facebook.com/volunteersbeware/ www.withtheheartofalioness.com


Purchase Book

Author: Ron Thompson
Date: 14th December 2015
Book Format: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-85756-844-8
Price: £24.95

More Info

For more information about the issues of captive carnivore breeding and canned hunting, please visit Blood Lions on: www.bloodlions.org

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