Barbara Bennett never imagined that she’d fall asleep to the sound of roaring lions. Or that she’d master the art of diapering a baby baboon. Or land a book deal with National Geographic.
But a stint volunteering at a wildlife refuge in Namibia proved a turning point that set the literature professor on a path of personal and professional discovery.
From TV to Reality
An animal lover since childhood, Bennett grew up watching Wild Kingdom, The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau and National Geographic specials on TV. She’s the kind of woman who talks to squirrels, names the deer in her backyard and brings doggie treats to a friend’s dinner party instead of a bottle of wine.
When she had a chance to take a sabbatical three years ago, Bennett opted to volunteer at the Harnas Wildlife Refuge.
While cleaning enclosures, tending injured animals and walking young lions, Bennett became close to founder Marieta van der Marwe, who shares an extraordinary connection with animals. Starting with a single vervet monkey, she now provides a home for 400 injured and orphaned animals.
Bennett wanted to share van der Marwe’s story and help support her work. Past encounters with publicity seekers had made the founder wary, but Bennett’s enthusiasm won her over. Now the only problem was convincing a publisher.
The answer came during Bennett’s next visit to Harnas, when one of the guests, a writer for The Guardian, provided an introduction to her agent, who agreed to represent Bennett.
“I learned more about writing than at any other time in my life,” Bennett says. “It was a new kind of writing. I had to learn to ask the right questions to elicit stories and select the best ones from a wealth of material.”
She was elated when her agent called to break the news: National Geographic wanted to publish her book, The Soul of a Lion.
In and Out of Africa
Bennett is headed back to Namibia (her fifth trip), this time to promote the book with tour operators, business and booksellers. With half of the proceeds going back to Harnas, it’s another way to support the sanctuary.
And she’ll try to fit in some quality time with her favorite wildlife species. “I’ve found that nothing comes closer to meditation for me than sitting silently with a cheetah.”