Lions of the Earth book shines a light on the lions, elephants and indigenous peoples who live alongside them

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“If we lose the elephants and other animals, we will have nothing to return to. We will lose our minds.

—Pacquo Lesorogol, elder of Samburu

When it comes to fascinating stories, Cyril Christo has a lot to say. During trips with his wife Marie Wilkinson and their son Lysander Christo, they have seen some of the most incredible charismatic mammal species on the planet. Drawing on the film “Walking Thunder” which follows their son’s journey from wonder to worry about elephants in Africa, Christo documents many of the stories that the indigenous peoples of Africa have told them in a new book – almost 20 years of preparation – titled “Lords of the Earth: the interwoven fate of wildlife and mankind. “


Photo credit: Lysander Christo

For example, a story that an indigenous person told them was about how a young girl was kidnapped by a group of men and taken to the forest. People who went to pick up the girl found her protected by lions who had chased away the kidnappers. The lions left as soon as her people arrived to take her home. “This remarkable story is unique, but it also demonstrates the truth of a time when lion and man understood each other’s powers, where two great killers respected each other’s power and spirit,” explains Christo.

Change America caught up with Cyril Christo for a Q&A on the book and future plans. The following has been edited for clarity and length.

Please give us a brief idea of ​​the subject of your book and what led to its creation.

We were looking at climate change around the world and we were focusing on Africa because that’s where humanity was born.

We met elders in Turkana, northern Kenya, who told us that the pattern of the rains had changed. When there were droughts every 11 years now, it was every few years. And the elders pointed out that droughts only came with the arrival of the white man. Where there were many rhinos, elephants and lions, it was now an empty desert.

In 2008, we heard about the second phase of elephant killing in 30 years. It was at the same time that we started our trip with our son in Africa. We gave him a small digital camera and as we heard about people’s spiritual connection to wildlife, the poaching crisis was escalating across Africa. And we had a young child not only admiring the wonders of Africa, but also hearing about the poaching crisis. We were caught between innocence with our child, the beauty of Africa and also the horrors that invade the continent. So this book, like the movie “Walking Thunder” we just finished, is a family journey into the meaning of wildlife for the tribal mind.

We have had the privilege for over 20 years, and 16 years with our son, to hear strange stories of elephants and lions actually helping the local people to survive in the bush. Like the time a woman gave birth in the wild with the help of a male elephant who tore branches from a tree and built a fence around her to protect her from hyenas, leopards and lions. Stories that most animal documentary filmmakers generally don’t hear because most of their attention is focused on wildlife. The future of humanity is inextricably linked to the future of wildlife and the plant kingdom. In addition to lowering the temperature of the Earth, we must save what remains of the species on this planet. Aboriginal people have much deeper and older knowledge and wisdom than the technological society.

This book is an attempt to highlight the vital spiritual connection that Aboriginal people have with animals. This connection is not unique to African tribes but exists all over the world, in the Arctic, in the Amazon, in Asia. It is time for us to listen to aboriginal people if we are to survive.


Photo credit: Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson

One of the themes of your work and of this book is that indigenous peoples must be heard. You mention in one part that there is a bias against them in this world. What do you mean by that and what do you hope to accomplish by sharing their stories?

This is pretty much the story of our time when four to six percent of the world is made up of Indigenous people who still have a traditional cosmological, metaphorical, linguistic and survival basis with regard to the land. Because they are much, much deeper than ours, [which] is a mechanistic and reductionist model that we have right now.

We want to save the world and yet we are destroying it at the same time. You can’t do both at the same time. And that’s why this decade is probably the decisive decade for how the rest of life on Earth is either going to bond and sustain or unravel.


Photo credit: Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson

Most of the stories you tell in the book are impressive on their own, but together it’s even more impressive. How to conserve and share all these stories while keeping hope for these important species and for climate change?

I don’t know if hope is the key word. We need to act. And adults continue to act like they don’t care, that they don’t have children. Many adults prefer to earn money and profit from the future of their children.

We are crazy. We don’t know what we want. We must understand that life is a complete miracle. And if there is nothing left in 50 years, we won’t want to be here.


Photo credit: Cyril Christo and Marie Wilkinson

How do you hope people feel when reading and looking at the photos in the book, and what do you hope people take away from this book?

Africa has been treated as a colonial experiment for too long and in its attempt to catch up with the West, many landscapes, peoples and species are being sacrificed. African nations have been grossly under-represented. If we do not exercise extreme caution, Africa will not be able to conserve its biodiversity and its people, it will lose the great genius that makes Africa unique among the continents. The investment must not be made at the expense of the environment, because Africa will then become like any other place on the planet.

What could you not include in the book and what will your next projects focus on?

If we had the support of the film or conservation community, we would make a documentary telling the miraculous true stories of the lions and elephants who helped tribal people survive in the wild. Stories that can move the human mind in an incomparable way. Stories that cannot be matched by the world of machines. We’re also working on a book on the species that helped shape Lysander’s childhood, from his first visit to Africa until he saw the increasingly endangered monarch butterflies in Mexico, to when he was able to touch gray whales in Baja California, at his first sightings of a tiger in Bandhavgarh, India, when he was three and a half years old, and his times with lions and elephants, and when he was saw its first polar bears among the increasingly fragile ice, ice that will determine where we are headed as a species. We must save the other species, because without them there will simply be no childhood possible. To ensure that childhood has the opportunity to marvel and hope for the future, we must have the organic world still functioning under our feet. This is the definition of our time. That’s why the book comes out right after the Glasgow summit.

Indigenous people are our peers, and animals aren’t just there for photographic opportunities. Animals are what Carl Jung called the priests of God. That is why we have decided to combine the two themes in this book.

Romain Gary, in his extraordinary book “The Roots of Heaven”, wrote, “On an entirely artificial planet, there can also be no room for humans. All that will be left of us are robots. This is a reality that we must avoid at all costs. This is why Africa and the natural world are so important.


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