CARLSBAD — When speaking to restaurateur Mayur Pavagadhi about seeing wild animals in his birth country of Kenya, his eyes light up.
“If you really have seen a lion in the wild, it’s so magnificent,” he said. “It’s like seeing a polar bear.”
His passion for animals is infectious and when he heard about Cecil the lion having been killed in Zimbabwe by a dentist from Minnesota last month, he was crushed.
The lion’s death has since sparked an international outcry against big game hunting.
Pavagadhi had been planning a mural to paint on the side of his restaurant, 83 Degrees, for some time and after hearing about Cecil, he knew he wanted a tribute to the lion.
Studio 2 artists Ron Juncal and Phyllis Swanson painted the mural commemorating the lion on the western wall of the restaurant.
The mural took about five days to complete and 30 man-hours.
Juncal said the type of mural was new to him.
“We haven’t done anything that was a tribute in the past, but it was special and unique,” Juncal said.
He said conservation of the species was important to everyone involved.
The majority of the feedback has been positive.
Juncal said they were finishing the mural during Art in the Village, which draws thousands of art enthusiasts to Carlsbad Village once a year.
He said the experience was one-of-a-kind.
“There was lots of people looking at it, cheering us on and giving us encouragement and telling us how nice it looked,” Juncal said. “It was one of the easiest and most pleasant pieces we’ve done and at the same time probably one of the most poignant pieces because of its meaning.”
Not all have been supportive of the mural, according to Juncal and 83 Degree Manager Nick Wheeler.
Some have criticized it because they believe there are more serious issues plaguing the world.
“People are saying, ‘why would you choose a lion when there’s military personnel and tragedies overseas’ but it’s just kind of one those things where everybody has their opinion and it was the owner’s choice and it’s something that means a great deal to (Pavagadhi),” Wheeler said.
“There are always various causes that people have at the top of their list. I agree that there are greater issues than the death of a lion but on the other hand, this was the lion’s moment to speak in our community,” he said.
He hopes the mural generates talk about species conservation.
“We’re kind of hoping it generates a little bit of talk,” he said.
Pavagadhi doesn’t have any intentions for the mural except for people to enjoy it.
“I just wanted my heart to feel better so I could look at Cecil,” he said. “I hope people can love and care about animals in the wild and just love them, don’t kill them.”
The mural will be on the restaurant indefinitely and adds to Carlsbad Village’s extensive collection of murals.
Another big cat graces the side of Witch Creek Winery. Michael Summers’ “Catnap” features two black and white striped tigers with colorful raindrops falling around them.