Los Angeles pet lovers.
By Lori Golden
To understand how Shambala came to be, we must go back to 1969 when Tippi was filming Satan’s Harvest in Africa. There she met a mellow lion named Dandylion and suddenly had the feeling "there was much to discover about the big cats." A trip to Gorongosa, Mozambique’s largest game preserve, brought Tippi and her husband Noel Marshall to an abandoned house inhabited by 30 lions and their cubs, some asleep in window frames, others gazing down from the roof, a couple sitting on a dilapidated porch swing, and one resting in a broken rocking chair. It was this bizarre scene that prompted Noel to say, "you know, we ought to make a picture about this." And it was those words which changed Tippi Hedren’s life forever.
Tippi’s book, The Cats of Shambala, tells the remarkable story of Noel and Tippi’s dream to make that film about the African lions called Roar, and all that they endured in the six years prior to commencing filming. In their first dose of reality, while discussing their need for a cast of 50 lions with a veteran animal trainer, they were told that "you can’t simply force a bunch of adult lions, strangers to each other, to live together. They’re individuals that have to be introduced gradually or they may kill each other. Or you." This wake-up call made them realize they would have to create their own pride of 50 homegrown lions, acquiring them one by one.
Their lion search next brought them to Ron Oxley, a man with an animal-rental business in Soledad Canyon, an area Tippi never knew existed. Oxley introduced them to Neil, a lion they could safely hug and get to know, and suggested he bring Neil to their place for a visit. "To get to know anything about lions," he said, "you’ve just got to live with them for a while." Unaware what this would eventually lead to, Neil became their first live-in lion 4 or 5 days a week. From that point on their lives and their home in the suburban community of Sherman Oaks would never be the same.
It’s one thing to have a few dogs or small cats as house pets. It’s quite another to raise lions. But that’s what Tippi and her family (including her daughter, actress Melanie Griffith) did for months before acquiring the Soledad Canyon property that would become Shambala. The whole family was involved in the feeding and care of lion cubs, who could be both loving and destructive at the same time. But Tippi writes that "the months we spent raising the cubs were marvelous, unique learning experiences for us all. The time between 6 weeks and 6 months, when the lion is becoming quite large and strong, is a time of wonder." The Sherman Oaks house became a way station for the lion cubs who would eventually live in Soledad Canyon, with the cubs spending a period of time associating with humans first. Believing that nothing was more important than day-and-night communication with the cubs, Tippi shocked friends when she admitted that she absolutely made sure the cubs even slept with her or her children.
As plans for the film progressed, Tippi moved to the animal compound, surrounded by the lions, tigers, a couple of African elephants and other exotic felines acquired for the film. Her book details the years of off-and-on filming of "Roar" and the myriad of problems they encountered, including the threat of fire; lions occasionally escaping from the compound; and a devastating flood. But she also writes about the lions and tigers who became part of their homegrown cast and the relationships that she and others working with her had with the animals.
What began as a vast and authentic African-type set for a motion picture became a private preserve for the four-footed feline "actors" who starred in that film. TodayShambala is maintained by the Roar Foundation, a non-profit organization Tippi established to "assist in the care of the animals and continue further in-depth study of the great cat in captivity." Taken from ancient Sanskrit, Shambalameans "a meeting place of peace and harmony for all beings, animal and human." Tippi writes that here is a place "where lions and tigers are allowed to live together or alone if they choose. They’re not asked to do ridiculous things like tricks, and can do what they want to do, with little interference from humans. They are a source of beauty, to be observed like a fine painting. I’m now convinced that, raised in captivity, they are capable of much deeper human relationships than previously thought possible."
Tippi says that the animals are "always showing us something new and different. I am always amazed at the intelligence level they have, and how they can be so very, very affectionate. And they’re so honest. It’s so refreshing. The honesty is just unbelievable. Whatever they feel, that’s what you see."
The cost of feeding and maintaining the animals ofShambala is great, topping $50,000.00 per month. This includes monumental bills for meat and feed, electricity, and water pumps and heat lamps for the well being of the elder felines. Through the Roar Foundation, fund raising events are held and educational programs maintained.
There are also "Safaris" during which visitors to Shambalahave a chance to meet Tippi and some of the unique residents face-to-face on a 4-hour guided tour of the Preserve. This includes some of the lions that were part of the cast of "Roar" as well as the African elephants, Timbo, 37, and Kura, who is 36. Adds Tippi, "they’ll see the snow leopard, the young tigers, and a new little lion whose name is Sweetheart." Guests will witness the wonderful relationships that the animal crew at Shambala has with all of the animals they work with.
Tippi wants to remind everyone to "think before you go and purchase that adorable, darling little cub, because he grows up to be hundreds of pounds. He can be 500 pounds of biting, claws and teeth. If you don’t know how to deal with them, you can be in extremely serious danger. And it isn’t fair to them to be brought up in a home. When the little lions were with us, we had no intentions of keeping them there. We were just getting to know them. It’s something we constantly talk about. Do not, ever, buy a wild animal of any kind as a pet!" She also adds that "we should work to try to maintain their territories out in the wild and keep them there. That’s where they should be. And support your zoo and make sure that it’s run well. It may not be that long from now that the zoos are the only places where we can see these beautiful animals. Zoos and places likeShambala."
Shambala Safaris are offered to the public, 18 years and older, twice a month on a reservation basis. The cost is $35.00 per person, and reservations must be made in advanced.
You can also book an overnight stay at the new Malaika Marqee, a genuine African safari tent at the preserve. For a tax-deductible donation of $2500.00, you and a guest can spend the night under the stars in this beautiful tent. The overnight getaway includes a gourmet dinner, a midnight walking tour with Tippi Hedren, and a delicious breakfast. For information, future dates for the Safaris and more details, call (661)268-0380.
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