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Gareth Patterson is one of Africa’s great conservationists – he has the scars to prove it.


I met Gareth a few years ago and frankly did not at the time fully appreciate his true contribution to conservation in Africa. During our lengthy discussion over a few cups of tea at a lovely spot near Plettenberg Bay, I was immediately drawn to his quietly contemplative take on life and well-disguised steely resolve.

I was aware that he was lion-man George Adamson’s protégé back in the day and that his recent study of Knysna’s elephants was shaking a few trees in the musty old Cape Nature conservation corridors. I also knew that he was hounded out of Botswana’s Tuli Block by the South African hunting fraternity and fled to the peaceful Garden Route to recover from massive stress overload, and make a fresh start.

The final day of filming on a documentary of George's life © Nick Gray)
The final day of filming on the last documentary of George’s life © Nick Gray

What I did not realise though was how unbelievably special his relationship was with the lions he rescued from Kora in Kenya and relocated to Tuli when Adamson was killed.

Gareth Patterson with the lion Batian who he considered his son © Louise Gubb, 1990
Gareth Patterson with the lion Batian who he considered his son © Louise Gubb, 1990

His book My Lion’s Heart is the incredible story of one man’s determination to give a small group of young orphaned lions a fresh start in life. He taught them how to survive in this arid wild land – even how to hunt, deal with aggressive elephants and defend the territory against other wild lions. Along the way he lived like a lion, behaved like a lion and even thought like a lion.

This riveting story is full of wonderful anecdotes and revelations and I was left wanting to know more, to better understand what it means to almost become a lion. It’s full of incredible highs but also not short on anger, sadness and despair. Importantly though, Gareth was ultimately successful in his endeavour, because the genes of his lions still live on in Tuli. Pity that the seemingly ever-evil trophy hunting industry tried so hard to stifle this great man’s efforts – but I guess a leopard never changes its spots.

Buy this book to learn more about what it is to be a lion, and to support Gareth’s kind of conservation – the kind where outdated viewpoints are challenged and inconvenient truths faced head-on.

The great bond that existed between Batian the lion and Gareth Patterson. © Louise Gubb, 1990
The great bond that existed between Batian the lion and Gareth Patterson. © Louise Gubb, 1990

My Lion’s Heart print edition is available in most bookshops in South Africa and the is available on Amazon and

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Africa Geographic Travel
Simon Espley

I am a proud African and honoured to be CEO of Africa Geographic. My travels in Africa are in search of wilderness, elusive birds and real people with interesting stories. I live in Hoedspruit, next to the Kruger National Park, with my wife Lizz and 2 Jack Russells. When not travelling or working I am usually on my mountain bike somewhere out there. I qualified as a chartered accountant but found my calling sharing Africa's incredibleness with you. My motto is "Live for now, have fun, be good, tread lightly and respect others. And embrace change". Connect with me on LinkedIn