When a male lion killed a lioness in a seemingly unprovoked attack at the Dallas Zoo this weekend while families looked on, parents across the nation were faced with the decision of teaching kids about animal instincts or quickly becoming the authors of a brand new fairytale.
Lioness Johari, 5, was placidly sitting beside a male lion when he sank his teeth into her neck, killing her, according to published reports.
The first thing I thought when reading the news account was, “What would I have told my kids if we’d witness that?”
To be perfectly honest, if they were young, I would have channeled Walt Disney in a heartbeat.
I can say this with certainty because that’s how I became a children’s book author nearly 15 years ago when we moved from a sailboat in the Gulf of Mexico to Medford, N.J., and my kids, then pre-K and Kindergarten, began to face harsh realities.
We started with bullies on the school bus, whom I transmographied into apes in a jungle tale being frightened off by a little chameleon who found her courage. Then, we moved on to the 911 attacks, which became the Mouse and the Light fable.
However, today, I decided to test the waters with our nine-year-old to see if he was ready to hear the truth or if I was going to have to go out and rent “The Lion King” tonight and talk about the evil lion character Scar.
After nearly 20 years of parenting I have learned that kids are often more ready than we are to deal with reality. Quin, who is relentlessly logical, might be insulted by a non-scientific explanation.
After reading the story and asking him how he would explain what happened, he presented me with two theories.
Explanation #1: “Well, it could have been that a giant, invisible, alien squid fell on her (the lioness) and he (the lion) was trying to save her from becoming a hybrid, and because it was invisible he accidentally killed the lioness by mistake,” Quin posited.
Explanation #2: “She probably asked him to do it because she was so sad and tired of living in a zoo. It was probably a mercy.”
When asked which of his two stories he would prefer to tell someone who witnessed the event at the zoo, Quin didn’t hesitate, “The first one’s a much better story and it’s not sad. Roll with that.”
Based on this completely unscientific method of inquiry I have decided while Quin is perfectly capable of seeing the science, facts, and ruthless logic of the situation, emotionally, he’s not ready to go there with me.
Invisible alien squid it is. You heard it here first.
The moral to this story is that when parents are stuck for an answer it’s OK to ask the child for a password hint.
If the child is comfortable with cold, hard reality then that’s where you go with it.
On the other tentacle, if the hint is “invisible aliens,” join your child in co-authoring the next big SyFy channel movie – Lionpuss.
Editor's note: For the record, the Dallas zookeepers are puzzled by the lion's behavior. Here's what Dr. Lynn Kramer, the zoo’s vice president of animal operations and welfare, said: "This is a very rare and unfortunate occurrence. In my 35 years as a veterinarian in zoos, I've never seen this happen... I would have to think something caused the males to react that they don’t normally see every day,” he said. “Lions can be aggressive, but they don’t kill each other.”