Lucas the lion was the talk of the town last week. The four year old African lion arrived at Hope Zoo in Kingston the week before from his home at the Monterey Zoo.
Many of the animals at Monterey are trained to perform in Hollywood. Lucas, apparently, was too “aggressive” to be trained but instead of keeping him at the zoo as is the normal practice, Charlie Sammut, his former owner, donated him to Hope. Sammut, who was seen with zoo officials near Lucas’ enclosure the day I visited, is helping the lion settle into his new home.
When I heard that Lucas had been described as aggressive, I said to myself, he’d fit right into Jamaica. As a side note, the previous lion at Hope was named Scrappy but I’m not sure if he was called that because it described his personality.
Lucas was on his side, when I arrived, his back to the world, quite oblivious to the hubbub that was going on just beyond the fence of his home, which was decked out in yellow ‘caution’ tape. As I joined the small knot of children and adults, a zoo employee standing near the cage announced that Lucas was sleeping. I noticed then that everyone was staring straight ahead, as if willing Lucas to wake up.
“Lucas sleeping?” a boy asked.
Before the employee could reply, someone put in words the thought in head, “It must be the heat.”
It was about 86 F but felt more like 100 F, even in the shade.
“Yes,” she replied. “Just think about how you’d react if you went to London in the winter. You’d need time to adjust to the cold, right?”
“Yes, Miss,” a little voice replied sheepishly.
Just then, a group of about twenty chattering and excited school children, no more than 9 years old, approached. They walked in an orderly line two by two, each boy’s hand loosely holding a girl’s, their teacher walking behind them.
As they neared the enclosure, the zoo employee put her index finger to her lips.”Shhhh, Lucas is sleeping.”
“But he should know heat, he’s from California,” someone shouted bringing us back to the original exchange.
“Well,” the employee started out slowly as if searching for the right words to appease the disconcerted group, “the climate where Lucas was is very different from here. He traveled several hours in a cage and needs time to adjust to our climate. He needs to sleep so he can be active when you come to see him.”
“What you mean adjust?” a woman asked roughly. “I come all the way from St. Elizabeth (about a 3 hour drive) and he sleeping? Wake him up! Luuu-cas!”
“Please don’t wake the lion, Ma’am. He needs to rest.”
“Lucas need company,” a man said emphatically. The woman he was with glared at him. “No, is true. If him get a female, him will liven up.”
The kids, disappointment written all over their faces, walked away. Soon, there was only the employee and me. We chatted for a little then she moved closer and whispered conspiratorially, “Lucas got a cut from the cage and it was infected so we tranquilized him to take care of it. That’s why he’s sleeping.”
As we talked, I noticed Lucas’ tail flick. He moved his head, then pulled himself up slowly to rest on his front paws.
A few children who were nearby saw him and hurried to the fence. One of the women who’d been in the group also saw and moved quickly to take up a position, her little boy in tow. “Don’t pass the crime scene tape,” I heard her say to him.
We watched Lucas come to life. He looked around, shook his head as if to dislodge something from his thick mane then looked off in the distance, not even acknowledging us. Yes, I thought to myself as I walked away. He’s perfect for Jamaica. He’s already acting like our politicians.