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Hear Him Roar!

September 18, 2013
When our son was small he loved going to the zoo. Back then, the Portland Zoo was well known for its elephant breeding program but not much else. Every year we would walk past enclosures with sleepy bears, molting predatory birds and disinterested zebras. But one time was different.


I had just passed through the ticket gate with Mrs. C. and little CJ when people ahead of us started running, drawn by one of the most incredible sounds I’ve ever heard, similar to the sound of a freight train rushing down the tracks. We joined the stampede and quickly arrived at the lion compound. The zoo had only one lion and he really wasn’t much of an attraction; old, lazy from years of inactivity and forced feedings, he must have had a name but I can’t remember it.


Now this mangy cat was standing on a concrete promontory like a scene from The Lion King, looking little like the unconscious cat I’d seen year after year. Hundreds of spectators crowded the metal guardrail in front of the moat confining him. I pushed my way as close as possible so CJ could get a good view and when we couldn’t get any closer the lion opened his jaws and emitted a marrow-chilling roar that undoubtedly turned many undies yellow and prompted everyone, including me, to leap back a few steps.


From then on that lion put the Metro Goldwyn Mayer trademark to shame. He threw back his head and roared with enough energy to scare pee out of King Kong. He bared his teeth, squinted into the sun and let loose a boisterous outcry that overrode five million years of human evolution, a thundering reverberation that made me want to grab my child and run for safety—the atavistic sound that must have terrified early man roaming the savanna for food.


Having grown up on Tarzan movies, I’ve heard lions roar, but it’s an altogether different experience hearing one in person, up close. In the safety of a movie theater you can run for the EXIT when you can’t bear the sensation of your heart jack hammering against your ribs, your toes curling in your shoes as fear brushes up and down your spine.


He put on a show for hours, his piercing gaze reminding me that, even though we humans now rule a planet, it wasn’t so long ago when we were little more than someone’s supper.


The next day I was sitting at the breakfast table, one eye on CJ as he spilled Cheerios on the floor, the other eye on my morning paper. A headline caught my attention. Overnight the lion at the Portland Zoo had died. An autopsy had yet to be performed but the lion was old and it was assumed he’d died of natural causes. I can’t help wondering if he knew he was going to die—the reason he’d put on such a show.


Had he decided to go out with a roar instead of a whimper? No way; they’re just dumb animals. Right?








I love that. We should all go out with such a bang...err, roar.
By: Shelly on September 18, 2013
Great read! I've never heard a lion roar, but have heard the lionesses. I think they were telling their hubby to wake up!
By: David Walston on September 18, 2013
Interesting, he may have been in pain, but I like your interpretation much better.
By: Cranky on September 18, 2013
He was probably telling you all to get off his lawn. BTW, I guess in Japan they're teaching whales how to paint:
By: PT Dilloway on September 18, 2013
I used to take my littles to the Tucson Zoo and every so often that lion would let out a roar that could be heard clear across the zoo. Whenever I heard it I would grab my children by the hands and run to the lion enclosure only to find that we had missed the excitement and he was now asleep. It wasn't until after several visits that I finally heard that lion roar right when we were near the cage. We looked in as he let out another mighty roar only to see him sleeping as usual. It was then that I realized the zoo had a recording that they played intermittently throughout the day. A nasty trick in my opinion! I would have loved to have seen your lion's show!
By: Nancy Felt on September 18, 2013
A sad tale, but interesting and well written. Thanks, Stephen, for sharing this. I guess the lion may have been showing his spirit before he died, after being in captivity for so long.
By: Sharon Bradshaw on September 18, 2013
oh, i was afraid of that - one last hurrah...
By: TexWisGirl on September 18, 2013
Good Morning, Stephen: I haven't been to a Zoo in a long time. But this was a great post that made me ponder the life of this lion.
By: Michael Manning on September 18, 2013
Love the descriptive language. I think he did go out with a roar.
By: Charlotte on September 18, 2013
I think he knew & was announcing his imminent demise!!
By: fishducky on September 18, 2013
I had a feeling your story would end that way. What a powerful exit! So glad you got to witness that.
By: Mitchell Is Moving on September 18, 2013
It ended as I suspected it would. People who are dying quite often rouse themselves for a while before they slip away. Love, Janie
By: Janie Junebug on September 18, 2013
awww animals know more than us- I think they have sensibilities that we have lost since leaving our caves and immersing ourselves in electronic nonsense that numbs us to the great wonder our world is. I love your stories Stephen and I wish I had been at the zoo that day also.
By: Kathe W. on September 18, 2013
No, they aren't. He knew, animals know. Even when i have kittens that aren't going to make it, they know.
By: mimi on September 18, 2013
I think the poor lion was very ill and in great pain?
By: red on September 18, 2013
As always, a great tale. Did you know (wouldn't think you would) that the Philadelphia Zoo no longer has any elephants? Too much pressure from the ASPCA, PETA, or the ACLU, for all I know. Sad. But not as melancholy as the tale of your lion.
By: Al Penwasser on September 18, 2013
This is immensely sad. I do believe that he was in pain, physical and emotional, and that is what you heard. Animals know when something is terribly wrong - and why shouldn't they?
By: jenny_o on September 18, 2013
Could he have been roaring from pain?
By: Catalyst/Bruce on September 18, 2013
I hate to think that he was in pain. I much prefer the idea that he wanted to go out with a roar. When we took our youngest son to a zoo for the first time, he was fascinated with the ... get this ... sidewalks. We lived in the country at the time, and had a gravel driveway, and I guess paved sidewalks were something unusual in his mind.
By: Pixel Peeper on September 18, 2013
And his memory lives on.
By: Val on September 18, 2013
Nice story. The animals I've seen facing death (fortunately, not many), including humans, have all been tired, exhausted, barely conscious, with hardly enuf. energy to open their eyes. So this is one special lion.
By: tom sightings on September 18, 2013
It does make you wonder. He held it in until the end. Could he have been roaring in pain? I guess we'll never know. xoRobyn
By: Robyn Engel on September 18, 2013
Great timing, Katy Perry is at number one in the UK charts with Roar. I thought it was going to be about her! :D
By: LL Cool Joe on September 18, 2013
I find this a very beautiful story -- though also tragic -- as if the lion was roaring for the free life he had not been allowed to live...
By: The Broad on September 19, 2013
What a poignant talte, so sad, yet it may have been a different type of freedom which was calling him.
By: John on September 19, 2013
How sad that he might of been foretelling his visitors that he would soon be departed from them. I don't think animals are dumb, I think we don't understand how they are communicating with us. Hope the Portland Zoo has improved. I support the zoo of whatever city we live in. Here in Kansas City our zoo is very nice. It does our city proud.
By: Cheryl P. on September 19, 2013
A truly magnificent beast. We'll never what was running through the lion's mind, but I'd like to believe he was venting his frustration at his captors before he went to meet his maker.
By: Bryan Jones on September 19, 2013
True to my Gemini spirit, I am off two minds about zoos. I understand and appreciate that they are a wonderful place for people to see animals that they'd never otherwise have the opportunity to see. But if just feels so wrong to keeps such large, majestic animals in small enclosures their whole life so that we can just look at them. I've seen zoos where many of their animals just pace all day. Its heartbreak to see their torment. I appreciate a zoo with a large area for creatures to roam and have a bit of a normal life. All that having been said, I hope it was this beauty's last hurrah and not pain that made him call out. I'll gladly go with your version.
By: Hilary on September 19, 2013
I'm in agreement with the comments supporting the Lion knew the end was imminent.
By: Daniel LaFrance on September 21, 2013

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