HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

One of the last photos of Christian, with George Adamson

I look forward to Christian’s annual birthday blog. I love it when many of you add your birthday wishes to him as the world wakes up country by country on August 12th. It does seem ironic that New Zealand and Australia are ahead of the rest of the world! Pandemic permitting, I am about to move back to the inner city of Sydney from the outskirts after many years, and trust I will be online to post your birthday wishes as they come in.

I appreciate that that quite a few of you Christian fans and cat lovers keep in touch over the years, like Hélène in Canada and William in Florida. William recently emailed that he is supporting the Herd Elephant Orphanage in South Africa, where he follows their activities on video updates. With the lack of tourists, and the pandemic in Africa, people are choosing to support – and follow – animal organisations in this way.

Barbara also emailed quite recently that Christian “was certainly a handsome boy with a very charming personality”. He was innately even-natured and personable – but I think we gave him the room to develop his personality as many of you no doubt do with your “companion animals”. Of course love and trust were also big factors.

Earliest photograph of Christian and his sister in Harrods

Mehadi emailed me the photograph at the top of the blog (sourced from my 2014 blog!), and the image above out of a magazine article. I think it is the earliest photograph of Christian (left) and his sister I have seen. Mehadi, now living in Canada, grew up in India near the Asiatic lions in Gir which I have also been fortunate to visit. He points out how the Asiatic lions were nearly extinct until Sir Muhammad Mahabat Khan 111 initiated what may be the first lion conservation effort and today there are more than 400 lions.

Scarface (Source: Ecowatch)

Mehadi also mentioned the death of Scarface in Kenya in June. The famous Masai Mara lion lived until about 14 which is a long life in the wild. He was identifiable by the scar above his right eye, and had a long reign as the head of several prides. Mehadi hopes that Christian, who “revived” his interest in lions, also lived a long happy life and said “thank you Christian! We dearly remember you. Your charisma continues to enthrall people like us and many more to do meaningful work for conservation”.

I think with our various lockdowns we have fallen even more deeply in love with our animals. I know I have with my cat, and I hope she does not resent the move back into the city just as many people are moving out! The pandemic has probably affected all of us in various and sometimes unexpected ways, and I know many of us in Australia are still traumatized by the bush fires of 2020. My thoughts with people in Canada, America, Turkey and Greece facing equally terrifying fires, while there have been huge floods in Europe, India and China.

The latest IPCC climate change report confirms that greenhouse gas concentrations have increased, that urgent action is required, and that Australia is “lagging”.

New Chinese Book Cover

BOOK: It is good news that there is to be a new edition of A Lion Called Christian in Chinese. Some of you ask if a film about Christian will ever be made, and unfortunately it seems unlikely. After contacting me, a UK producer on my advice then wrote to SONY asking “is there any way we could progress a TV drama based on the story of Christian?” SONY, who own the rights (seemingly forever) replied “Thank you for your note but we are not interested in releasing rights.”

LONDON LETTERS: In early COVID I assiduously read and edited all the letters I wrote to my parents in Australia from London between 1969 and 1973 and commented on them from the perspective of 50 years later. One day I may publish them. My 21 year old self had grown up under decades of conservative government and even a White Australia policy. The letters illustrate a rite of passage and the attempts to find a career, experiences many of you could relate to. Naïve as I was, in the letters I do have an opinion on everything, and come across as very intolerant and very judgmental. Some key people in the animal world do not come out of it well, but neither do I. Unlike some of the humans, Christian’s behaviour in contrast just shone in every aspect – like pure gold!

The letters describe in detail how I REALLY felt about the experience with Christian, and explain why I returned to Australia and how it had changed dramatically, especially with new Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. I had finally became politicised, and found the career that I was searching for. It was, as they say, “under my nose”. Many of my friends were artists, and visiting galleries was a favourite pastime. Why not make a career out of what I love doing? I became a gallerist and curator. I think witnessing the flowering of contemporary Aboriginal art and its international acceptance has been the highlight of my life.

I am now writing up key incidents in my family colonial history in Australia, concentrating on our relations and encounters with indigenous people. Most colonisers and invaders dispossess the indigenous people, and are still failing to acknowledge or compensate. Our Aboriginal people are the oldest living race on earth, and have had to be particularly resilient to survive.

We marvel at their achievements particularly in the arts – their wonderful art works, films, stars like David Gulpilil, or the dancers and productions of Bangarra. But while there is a well-educated younger generation coming through that hopefully will force change, most still live in poverty, with shocking suicide and incarceration rates, and are subjected to ongoing racism and marginalisation.

The Lion Who Came To Stay (Book cover: Source Booktopia)

This book by fellow Sydney-sider Victoria Mackinlay is about her grandfather who was asked as a school boy in England in the 1930s what present he would like from India. He replied “something alive”. It was thought an elephant was impractical but an obliging Maharaja sent a young Asiatic lion called Singh. They spent an idyllic summer together in a rather grand sounding country home, but of course Singh grew quickly and ended up in London Zoo.

I feel very lucky that this was not Christian’s fate.  

AUSTRALIA: Our conservative government never fails to disappoint. They have still failed to respond after four years to the Uluru Statement from the Heart from our Aboriginal population. This was a most generous, thoughtful and unthreatening way forward, beginning with a “Voice” to Parliament, to advise, not overrule, on Aboriginal issues. After 8 years of conservative government there is still not a viable energy or climate change policy, and they remain hostage to the fossil fuel industries and Rupert Murdoch. There have been no necessary and overdue reforms, no transparency or accountability, and we are trillions in debt.

Australia was lucky initially with the pandemic as we closed the borders, and they remain closed, heartlessly leaving 35,000 Australians still stranded overseas and unable to return. A scandalously slow vaccine rollout leaves most of the population threatened at present by a new outbreak of the very transmissible Delta variant. Unfortunately the Government Opposition is ineffective.

The Great Barrier Reef (source: The Guardian)

On a more positive note our state governments do seem to be a little more aware of climate change and environmental problems. There were heavy losses of wildlife in the bushfires of 2020 which left us all scarred. Our koalas are in danger of extinction and we do have to act urgently to protect their shrinking habitats from urban development and land clearing. Hump back whale populations have increased – and are presently migrating up our east coast. The Federal Government was very offended that UNESCO recently threatened to list the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger” and urged Australia to take “accelerated action at all possible levels” on climate change.

There remains a failure of leadership around the world and the pandemic has illustrated this. At least Trump lost the election but he has not gone away. He has left an appalling legacy of creating doubt over news reporting and scientific facts as well as unleashing conspiracy theories. Modi in India, like Bolsonaro in Brazil, scandalously allowed the virus to spread.

Christine Townend, Ace and writer Jeffrey Masson

WORKING FOR ANIMALS: This photograph was taken by WFA President Jeannette Lloyd Jones when Jeffrey Masson, distinguished writer about animal behavior, came to one of our very informal WFA meetings. Jeffrey and his wife now live in Sydney.

Our staff at the two Working for Animals shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong in India have bravely soldiered on during the Covid crisis, which has been especially devastating in India. We can now follow their work by excellent photographs on Instagram (@kas_das_animal shelter_kas_das), Facebook (Kalimpong and Darjeeling Animal Shelter), our website www.workingforanimals.org.au  and our newsletters.

I sincerely hope you have all managed this difficult year without too much distress, isolation and loss. I found the Olympics a welcome distraction. We all are facing great uncertainty and I fear some of you must have suffered greatly. I’m sure your companion animals have been indispensable.

Many people celebrated World Lion Day on the 10th August, but every day is World Lion Day to me!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN.  

George Adamson and Christian

George Adamson and Christian (c. late 1972- early 1973)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

During the last world crisis, the Global Financial Crisis, Christian’s “reunion” footage with us in Kenya on YouTube was a soothing and positive diversion, and this helped to make it so popular. I have been getting emails recently with people saying they have been watching Christian’s story as a distraction, or to make them feel better in “lockdown”. It amazes me that Christian still casts this spell over so many of us.

See here should you want to watch the version of our reunion with Christian with Whitney Houston’s song, as it gets harder to find on YouTube, and needless to say, it is my favourite version.

Many of you no doubt celebrated World Lion Day on August 10th, and International Tiger Day on the 29th July.

LIONS: We all remain concerned with the crisis in lion and wildlife populations. I am presuming “canned hunting” is not thriving with the widespread COVID-19 virus in South Africa, but at a time like this the owners of the numerous “lion farms” that have profited from this dreadful practice may start to maltreat the animals including not feeding them properly or looking after them. Even worse, the current situation may encourage the participation in the illegal trade in lion body parts. The human population in South Africa, with widespread unemployment, is also faring very badly.

Image source: Allen & Unwin

While I have as yet only read an extract, there is a new book The Last Lions in Africa: Stories from the frontline in the battle to save a species by Anthony Ham. He is, to my surprise, an Australian.

The author states that as of 2019, there are approximately 22,509 lions left on the African continent. At the end of the C19 there were 200,000. They have disappeared from 95% of their historical ranges, and from 26 countries. By now we know most of the reasons, primarily, destruction of habitats, hunting and human and animal conflict. The author also notes that there are approximately only 4,000 tigers left in the wild, and 1,000 mountain gorillas.

Depressingly, in my blog after blog over the years, we have been watching these figures diminish despite many organisations and individuals doing good work. Rather like action, (or inaction) on climate change, nothing seems to be reversing the “extinction vortex” we are witnessing.

These giraffes from the Mogo Wildlife Park, NSW, nearly died in the bushfires and have now welcomed a new born calf

BUSHFIRES:  In Australia we had a horrific fire season with 10 million hectares of the east coast burnt, which was news around the world. We were all in shock at the scope, the intensity, and that the fires were described as “unstoppable”. I live surrounded by a National Park which was very dry, but we were lucky this time. The smoke and air quality from the fires was a danger to health over vast areas. I put my art collection in storage, and like many others, had a suitcase and the cat box by the door for months on end.

Quite a few people lost their lives, including fire fighters, and many lost their houses and businesses. Many animals died – they estimated a billion at the time, but that has just been updated to 3 billion dead or displaced. This does not include the cattle and sheep lost. Despite the early start to the fire season and the incredible ferocity of the fires, despite all intelligent people and fire experts pointing to climate change as a factor, our conservative government said “now was not the time” to talk about such things. Now we are heading towards the next season as ill prepared as we were last year. We continue not just to ignore the experts but also indigenous fire practices honed over centuries.

As many as 5,000 koalas lost their lives during the fires, and their habitats destroyed.  There is even talk of extinction. Our NSW Government has stated it wants to double koala populations by 2050, but this government has not stopped land clearing and habitat destruction, which like creeping urbanization, are the major threat to koalas, along with bush fires, disease, dogs and feral animals. The government fully supports mining, even allowing mining that threatens Sydney’s water supply.

Australia has the worst record in the world in relation to the extinction of mammals – 30 species lost since colonization (1788), and 14 in the past 50 years.

COVID-19: Who would have thought how much the world would have changed since Christian’s last birthday? We have all been overtaken by COVID-19 and I hope all of you and your families are managing. Everyone has been affected in some way. Australia had coped quite well up until recently, although due to some inexcusable quarantine carelessness, we now seem to be having a dangerous “second wave” in Victoria, and some outbreaks in my state of NSW. Luckily as an island continent we can close our borders, although our state borders are more porous. The lucrative international tourism industry and the international student sector, have been decimated.

Interestingly, the Federal Government has responded quite well and suddenly and unusually, listened to medical experts and scientists – unlike their ongoing climate change denial. The government is now getting very worried about the economy and is anxious to reopen everything and for it to be business as usual. They have been forced to embrace spending and borrowing billions of dollars after criticizing the Opposition for years, although it was the ALP who were then in government and successfully navigated us out of the Global Financial Crisis.  Our economy and jobs growth have not been strong for years, and as yet there are no proposals or ideas for job creation or economic stimulation. The Treasurer even referenced Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as his models for economic recovery which is rather indicative of the government’s outdated ideological mindset.

The arts and entertainment industry here has also been decimated and given very little support, and none of it as yet has been forthcoming. Galleries and museums are tentatively reopening. Under the cover of “Covid”, funding to our national broadcaster the ABC, universities (especially “the Humanities”), the public sector and the arts, all imagined enemies of this government, will be minimized.

People around the world have appreciated surprisingly clear skies and clean water. Now would be an ideal time to have a new low carbon and green approach to the economy, and transition to renewables. In Australia we still don’t have an energy policy that business can invest in, and the government remains fixated on coal and gas. Now is also the chance to review: overdue taxation reform; much needed public housing policy; aged care; wage growth and the casualization of labour; and to consider free universal childcare, and the vital role of women (and migrants) in the health and service industries.

I’m glad I don’t live in Sweden where my age group seems to have just been sacrificed for the greater good, although their economy, and the number of deaths, does not indicate that this approach has been successful. I have been very worried about friends in the UK, the USA and Brazil. Trump and Bolsonaro have both been criminally negligent. I am also very worried about friends in India, and especially Rajat, a very intelligent and dedicated young fan of Christian’s who is battling a serious disease I’m sure he will overcome, and my thoughts are with him and his family.

Over the last year, the leaders of America, Russia and China have shown their true colours, and there has been a dangerous unravelling of the old world order. Cyber surveillance and warfare is the norm and it is difficult to ascertain the truth with the claims of “fake news” and the widespread conspiracy theories. In the USA I have no confidence in Biden, but removing Trump would do the world a service. My prayers for the future of the Uyghurs and Hong Kong, and for the citizens of Beirut.

Congratulations to the few countries like New Zealand, Taiwan and Vietnam that acted quickly and effectively against the virus. In Vietnam they have banned the trading in wild animals and their body parts which is good, although some are allowed for “medicinal purposes”. Wild life products do seem to be incubators of disease.

So take care, wear a mask, wash your hands and social distance.

The ice keeps melting…. Photograph by Michael Ginzburg for PBS.org

We listen to scientists and medical experts with the epidemic – why don’t we listen to climate change scientists and their predictions?

SELF-ISOLATION: How have you all managed in self-isolation? People initially seem to have found it frustrating but also quite interesting. Most have enjoyed more time with the family, although “home schooling” has been a challenge for many. With so many working from home, and Zoom, this may change work habits and paradigms. Musicians have made music in their bedrooms, and artists and galleries have been imaginative about art online. Cooking, eating, gardening and DIY home renovations seem to have been popular.

Many people binge watched Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness on Netflix but I resisted, although I did later see a documentary on these unsavoury people, messing with such beautiful animals. There are more big cats in private hands in the USA than are left in the wild. There is no conservation value as their breeding practices are indiscriminate. What is going to happen to the animals if these zoos are closed down, and the owners in jail?

Many of us have been supported at this time by our companion animals, who have had to adjust to us being home much more! Initially there were many more adoptions from animal shelters which was encouraging and understandable. I do wish even more people would adopt these animals, at risk of euthanasia, rather than buying expensive hybrid dogs like Cavoodles, Groodles and Moodles. I have noticed that Dachshunds have become very popular. My cat has been a great source of comfort even if she has manoeuvred/manipulated me into now being fed on demand, and I now realise she can sleep 23 hours a day.

I have got some overdue writing projects actually finished or well advanced, and have read some very good books. I have found classical music very soothing. Luckily Bundeena where I live is very beautiful and this winter quite mild so I walk every day. I have always felt in quarantine here!

“Misunderstanding” by Tony Albert. Courtesy Sullivan +Strumpf.

BLM: Aboriginal people in Australia have been protesting in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA and across the world, and of course they have much to relate to. As in America, there has been a growing section of the white population that also agree that enough is enough. Aborigines have a shocking incarceration rate, and there have been many Aboriginal deaths in custody, with no-one EVER bought to account.

White people have increasingly had to face our privilege in the last few years, and acknowledge the results of dispossession of indigenous people by colonisation. We also have to realise the amount of “casual” racism that exists, let alone the overt racism people of colour deal with on a daily basis. Enough IS enough!

Recently, the mining company Rio Tinto blew up two caves in the Juukan Gorge in Western Australia that were sacred to Aboriginal people. Artefacts dated to 46,000 years had been found there, so the caves were one of Australia’s most significant archaeological sites. The company said it was a “misunderstanding” – hence why one of our best Aboriginal artists Tony Albert called his artwork “Misunderstanding”. Google him to see more of his wonderful work. The nation was very shocked – briefly.

WORKING FOR ANIMALS: Our thoughts are with our WFA staff in India where the virus is particularly severe. The best news however is that the new cattery at the Kalimpong Animal Shelter (KAS) is now being built and finally cats will have the necessary space that they require. We are particularly grateful to Laura Louie and Harry Bohm who very generously donated money to purchase the additional land and build the cattery. I am very much hoping I can visit when travel is permitted again.

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s new book

BOOK: Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson has a new book Lost Companions, Reflections on the Death of Pets. This is possibly his 13th book, and dogs have been his speciality. Many of us have had the trauma of dealing with the death of loved pets, and Jeffrey recounts various stories about our special bonds with animals and the different ways people deal with their grief. I always regret that it is not possible to express our last words, explanations, or our thanks to them for all they have meant to us.

Jeffrey mentions Christian, as an example of interspecies relationships. Of course we don’t know what happened to Christian which I am quite relieved about. That is one death and trauma we didn’t have to face. About our reunion with Christian, Jeffrey, who is a friend of mine, says about me “I understand why this single encounter has stamped his life forever”. I think it has but I’m not sure how! While I was not surprised Christian remembered us, I may have been surprised at just how exuberant he was. Jeffrey noted what I also found extraordinary, that Christian’s “pride” who were not familiar with humans, milled around us, caught up in and sharing Christian’s excitement. He was loved by lions and humans alike.

MOROCCO: I was very fortunate to have a great trip to Morocco, Paris and London late last year, as international travel for us all is unlikely for the foreseeable future. There were cats and kittens everywhere in Morocco – no doubt too many, but I was pleased to see they were treated well.

In Fez I visited the American Fondouk, which was established in 1927 by an American woman to offer free veterinary care for “four legged” animals – mules, horses and donkeys. If these animals get injured, the families often have no other source of income. American Fondouk (hotel) is very well resourced with the latest equipment – for weighing and moving heavy animals, an operating theatre, and a test laboratory etc etc. The staff and volunteers were very welcoming to me – as they are to anyone who would like to visit and see their work. The founder’s family continue to support the Fondouk, but extra donations are always appreciated.

Speaking to the two young vets who showed me around, I said I had been lucky enough when I was younger to meet and know Joy and George Adamson. To my surprise, they had never heard of Elsa the lioness, the Adamsons, or Born Free. They said “we only know about those two young Australians who took their lion from London back to Africa”. They seemed to believe that I was one of them!

I was very shocked that generations now may not know Elsa’s extraordinary story, and the film and book Born Free that affected millions of people all over the world in the 1960s. Although I didn’t read the book at the time, I was very aware of the story. We were fascinated by Elsa’s affectionate relationship with the Adamsons and her successful rehabilitation back into the wild. It was almost unimaginable. Like David Attenborough who had begun making his documentaries, the spotlight was put on wildlife, and the affirmation that, like us, all animals, including “wild” animals, were sentient beings. I finally read Born Free a few years ago, and Elsa, like Christian, was an exceptionally intelligent animal. The Adamsons could take her on holidays, and she would just jump into the back of their vehicle. Joy Adamson was a very creative woman, and the photographs in the book were wonderful.  I have seen the film more recently at fund raising events, and it remains amazingly fresh, and a feast for lovers of lions.

I can’t really completely explain or understand why Christian’s story still has such resonance so many years later. He was very charismatic, attractive, and full of personality.  His life was very well documented, and years later, he has had the benefit of the social media age and YouTube.  He demonstrated an obvious capacity for love. He too was successfully rehabilitated, and we can presume a happy ending. For some people our story also represents a more adventurous and less regulated era …… what do you think?

I would love you to Leave a Comment on your thoughts on what Christian and his story (or Elsa and Born Free) has meant to you!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN we are all still thinking of you, especially today.

Christian photograph by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian photographed by Ace Bourke 1972

 

Ace Bourke with Christian, 1972

BIRTHDAY: It is now 50 years since Christian was born in a zoo in Ilfracombe, Devon in the UK on 12 August 1969!!!!
I appreciate so many of you still being interested in Christian’s story, and there seems to be renewed interest in him again at the moment.

I have never been able to accurately articulate or understand exactly why Christian’s story has had such an appeal…for so long. Oprah Winfrey asked me this when we appeared on her program, and I went on and on! There are quite a few factors. He was gorgeous, lovable, charismatic and photogenic. He loved us and demonstrated that a human-animal relationship like this was possible. He had a friendly and outgoing nature, unlike his sister who was with him in Harrods Department Store in London where we first saw him. He drove his own destiny – he charmed his way to the department store and charmed us, and then later Bill Travers, Virginia McKenna and George Adamson of Born Free fame. He was “rescued” from captivity and, miraculously, taken to Kenya where he was set free and lived a natural life, for a few years at the very least. He was “rehabilitated” by the wonderful George Adamson who created a pride around him. His story reminds us of a time when life was a little more natural and unregulated, and adventures like this were possible. Not that I am recommending anyone do it now! We were extremely fortunate.

His continuing popularity is also due to the fact that his life was so well documented: in two initial documentaries; a later one, plus featuring in various others; several books; and Derek Cattani’s photographs. The available footage led to our reunion with him in Africa becoming an internet phenomenon. Watch it again here.

We have actually had very little criticism for our actions, although with the unpleasant practice of Canned Hunting in Africa – the petting, handling and patting of cubs in particular is definitely not to be encouraged. Some say the ease of Christian’s rehabilitation supports the argument – from the hunting lobby – that the catastrophic decline in numbers can be reversed, by “rewilding”, the way Christian was in Africa. But there are several major factors responsible for the decline, especially over-population and diminishing habitats.

NEW BOOK ON CHRISTIAN: If I had had the opportunity, I would have added some of the above comments, and some analytical and reflective depth to the recent book Christian the Lion: The Illustrated Legacy by John Rendall and Christian’s photographer, Derek Cattani. There are some previously unpublished photographs of Christian which gave me the most pleasure.

Having received so many often fascinating and moving emails over the years, I think your own experiences with animals, your endeavours on their behalf, and feelings about Christian, are also part of Christian’s “legacy”. Many of them are recorded in my earlier blogs and on our website alioncalledchristian.com.au, although I must apologise for not keeping it as up to date as I should.

WORKING FOR ANIMALS: Christine Townend, her husband Jeremy and hard-working vets and staff run 2 animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong in India. She has been my mentor in the fields of animal welfare, animal rights and conservation. I have often blogged about her – and I am on the Committee of Working For Animals. The shelters primarily cater for dogs and cats, and the programs she has initiated with dogs have eliminated rabies from the communities, although this is ongoing.

Christine is revered for her work in India, and this year she received an Order of Australia Medal for “service to animal welfare”. She of course modestly commented “I’m glad animals have been acknowledged”.

INDIA: I have been invited to speak at many conferences relating to animal rights and welfare, but I especially like going to India. I have met the most wonderful people from all over the world, often academic leaders in their fields. Christian has inspired many of them – some when they were young, so I feel they are also part of Christian’s legacy.

Tiger in Ranthambore National Park, 2016. Photograph by Ace Bourke.

TIGERS: India provided a highlight I will never forget: seeing tigers close up in the wild at Ranthambore, Rajasthan in 2016. Creating sanctuaries in national parks, making it a crime to kill them, and prosecuting poachers, has seen an increase in tiger numbers from 2226 in 2014, to 2967 in 2018. 80% of the world’s tigers live in India. I felt a little guilty becoming so enamoured of tigers, but I had, however, visited Indian lions in Gir, Gujarat previously, and blogged about them at the time.

We celebrated International Tiger Day on 29 July 2019, and World Lion Day on 10 August 2019.

HARRODS DOCUMENTARY: A few months ago friends alerted me to the fact that Christian was in the advertisements for the documentary Inside Harrods: The World’s Most Famous Department Store. Our story was given considerable time and I had no idea Christian was such an important part of the Harrods history. It is an uncomfortable feeling when you don’t have any say over the use of your shared story or image. Again, however, it was enjoyable to see good footage of Christian, and after watching, I decided that 50 years on, it is probably not a good idea to appear up against footage of oneself when one was young!

Disney’s The Lion King movie

MOVIE: The recently released The Lion King movie (Disney) is proving very successful – mixed reviews not-with-standing, taking $US185 million on the opening weekend in the USA. I have only seen the advertisements and the lions look beautiful. Sony own the rights to Christian’s story but seem to have no intention of ever making a film. Looking at the success of The Lion King, a film about Christian and the many aspects and lessons illustrated in his story, could also have been, and should have been, a part of his legacy.

AUSTRALIA: David Attenborough recently spoke before a British Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change – and singled out Australia and the USA for a lack of action. He said the deterioration of our Great Barrier Reef was a “vivid” example. Our conservative government was unexpectedly re-elected with virtually only one policy, “tax cuts”. We are still arguing if climate change is real and we have no energy policy and consequently unnecessarily high electricity costs. The contested Adani coal mine may still go ahead, and the International Monetary Fund recently estimated that global fossil fuel subsidies have grown to around $US5.2 trillion a year. According to Nature magazine recently, global temperatures rose faster in the final decades of the C20th than at any other time in the past 2000 years. Earlier temperature variations were influenced by volcanic activity, and human-caused climate change was now “overwhelming” natural variability.

ANIMALS: A recent UN Report states that a million species are at risk of extinction. These are rates that are unprecedented in human history and are caused by human expansion and the exploitation of habitats. Australia has the highest rate of mammal extinction in the world, and seemingly inadequate recovery plans. We have among the world’s worst deforestation record, and even one of our most iconic animals, the koala, is at risk.

New government legislation is more interested in prosecuting animal activists, than protecting animals or our environment.

I have tried to discuss and blog about these issues for years and despair at the lack of leadership or action. This is why I don’t really want to blog and comment these days, and I strongly object to the fact that scientists and experts are ignored, and creative, imaginative, innovative and progressive ideas are disparaged. The extremely dangerous President of the USA has succeeded with his lies in making it very hard to discern fact from fiction (over 10,000 false or misleading claims while in office so far), while Boris Johnson also has a reputation for lying.

BOOKS: I loved Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, a novel based on his tough childhood in the suburbs of Brisbane. I have now read everything by Helen Garner, one of Australia’s best writers. I was amused by Less by Andrew Sean Greer.

I am reading This Land Is Our Land: An Immigrants Manifesto by Suketu Mehta. This examines how colonial powers ruthlessly exploited the resources of various countries and their people, drew arbitrary boundaries, and particularly at the moment, have an undeserved “fear” of immigrants. When asked “Why are you here?” immigrants can justly respond, “We are here because you were there”.

I was very impressed with The Colonial Fantasy: Why White Australia Can’t Solve Black Problems by Sarah Maddison. It summarises our appalling mistreatment since 1778 of the Aboriginal population who have lived in Australia for at least 60,000 years. Again, “their dispossession underwrote the development of the nation” (a quote from the 1992 Mabo Judgement). Some of you kindly ask what I am working on, and this book has partly inspired me to write. The Aborigines have never been asked to advise on their own issues, and there is a current contested debate about Aborigines having an advisory Voice to Parliament. This was part of the Uluru Statement of the Heart by Aboriginal people in 2017 which offered an intelligent, reasonable and modest way forward towards “reconciliation”, although some argue reconciliation is for white people to feel better about themselves. The Statement was summarily dismissed by the government.

As many of you know I have been privileged to be a curator of Aboriginal art and have known or worked with some of the very best artists. I am also descended from several colonial Governors who impacted on Indigenous lives. I’m trying to write about my relationship with all of this, to clarify my feelings and thoughts for myself, and my efforts may be worth publishing one day.

PERSONAL: On a lighter note, my cat is wonderful although I still miss her brother who we lost several years ago, and I am looking forward to my first trip to Morocco. I hope you are having happy and fulfilling lives with your families, friends and animals, and let’s wish for some unexpected new leadership which will make our lives and the world a better and more sustainable place for the future.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

Photo Derek Cattani

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

This photograph was in 1970 with Christian and Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna in the English countryside.  Christian had outgrown London and we waited there for months for permission to take Christian back to Kenya to be rehabilitated by George Adamson of Born Free fame. This is where Christian celebrated his first birthday on 12 August 1970.  His friend Unity Jones, who played with him every day in London, brought him a meat cake from London on the train.

For those of you unfamiliar with Christian’s story, I posted more details last year on his birthday, and the full story is on the website www.alioncalledchristian.com.au or in our book A Lion Called Christian.

BORN FREE FOUNDATION: see this video where a short version of Christian’s story is recounted by Virginia McKenna and her son Will. The photographs of Christian (by Derek Cattani) are beautiful. The Born Free Foundation is soon to return a lion called King to Shamwari in South Africa, and we all wish him well.

SONY: SONY bought the film option to our book A Lion Called Christian nearly a decade ago. It has never looked like going into production.  In the 1960s the book and film Born Free told the story of Elsa the lioness and her return to the wild. Joy and George Adamson were played in the film by Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, and it is a wonderful film which changed the attitude of millions of people to animals worldwide.

Christian’s story may not be in the same league, but it does seem to appeal to many people and it could contribute to raising awareness of the disastrous tipping point we have actually passed in regard to the survival of many animals.

Lions, like other animals are in an extinction vortex. Estimates of course vary, but I have read that there were  approximately 100,000 lions in Africa in Christian’s time in the 1970s, and now there are under 20,000. In 2009 there were under 2000 lions left in Kenya.

Cats celebrating Diwali at the Darjeeling Animal Shelter

WORKING FOR ANIMALS: At our animal shelter in Kalimpong, India, we are buying adjoining land to build a cattery. I am particularly thrilled about this, as we all know how cats need space. Any contributions from fellow cat lovers are very welcome. I am on the Committee and hope to attend the opening when it is built. I visited our animal shelters in Darjeeling (DAS) and Kalimpong (KAS) a few years ago. They are beautifully situated in the most spectacular mountain region.  For our work see workingforanimals I particularly admire how rabies is kept under control in the communities.  We do need vets from time to time and it is an extraordinary opportunity for them.

 

 

CHRISTINE TOWNEND: The profits from Christine Townend’s book A Life for Animals are going towards our Darjeeling  (DAS) and Kalimpong (KAS) animal shelters that she and her husband Jeremy founded.  The book describes Christine’s journey from founding Animal Liberation in Australia (1976), and Animals Australia with Peter Singer (1980).  It is an interesting history of the period – and how she felt she had to leave Australia, such was the hostility towards her for protesting on the wharf against live sheep exports in the 1970s.  The book also describes her many years working for animals in India where she is highly respected, indeed revered.

FIAPO: I had hoped to attend The India For Animals Conference in Hyderabad 26th -28th October 2018.  I have attended and spoken at previous conferences and they always have very interesting speakers and address important issues. The Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisation continues to grow into a very extensive and mutually beneficial grouping of like-minded animal welfare advocates and animal shelters.

LIVE SHEEP EXPORT: Christine Townend, now Chair of Animals Australia, ironically sees her objections to the live sheep export trade in the 1970s, still unresolved. This has been one of the main animal welfare scandals recently in Australia. 2400 sheep recently died on board in appalling conditions and heat on the way to the Middle East.

The licence of the company was suspended, and this inhumane trade will have to be phased out. Animals Australia and the RSPCA have led a very effective television campaign and protest.

See How NZ banned the live export of sheep for slaughter 15 years ago

New Zealand ceased live sheep exports in 2003 and has successfully continued with a “boxed” meat trade.  Some are still exported for “breeding purposes”.  Australia exported nearly 2 million sheep in 2017, and we don’t as yet have the facilities to “box” so many animals here.

I have recently been to New Zealand several times and adored it. My main criticism is that the dairy industry has polluted what one would assume to be pristine water ways and this has contaminated some town drinking water and coast lines.  The dairy cattle dilemma is like coal in Australia, and backed by equally powerful vested interests.

Bob Marchant’s 1989 painting of George Adamson and lions was recently exhibited again

MEAT:There are more and more vegetarian and vegan restaurants in Sydney (the Little Turtle in Enmore, Sydney, is a current vegan favourite).  In Europe last year it was quite hard to find good vegetarian restaurants. I have now been vegetarian for quite a few years and it has been an easy transition.

All my life I have been appalled by butcher shops – those grisly images of carcases being carried from the truck into the butcher shop!  So hygienic!  See this video if you want to be put off meat!

 

Some serious people do predict that to be sustainable, the world will have to become vegan. Too much land and water is devoted to “farming” animals to eat and growing crops to feed them.  Clearing more and more land is destroying animal’s habitats and degrading the soil.

Unfortunately, the meat for our pets’ food contributes 1/3 of the environmental impact of the meat industry.  Yes, I confess I feed my cat meat although I try to encourage her to eat other food.  Apparently there are 9 million cats and dogs in Australia, 163 million in the USA, and a fast growing number in China.

The impact of cattle emissions on climate change is the next battle ground. Australia’s carbon emissions are 13% from agriculture, 35% from electricity generation, and 17% from transportation.  70% of emissions in agriculture are from the potent green house gas methane produced by cattle.

 

AUSTRALIA:  To think I used to complain about a lack of leadership! I hope you are all doing alright in this quite changed and even more unpredictable world.  In Australia, our conservative government, rather than administering our country and planning for the future, are bitterly self-sabotaging themselves, fighting over the best way to hold Australia back somewhere in the last century. Consequently we have no energy policy.  Scientific evidence about climate change is challenged, experts discredited and the government is hostage to the vested interests of the coal and fossil fuel lobby. They are supported in their disinformation by Rupert Murdoch’s The Australian  newspaper(Sky News, and Fox News in the USA etc).

A current article in The Monthly is entitled How the world’s oceans and all marine life are on the brink of total collapse.  It makes chilling reading – the damage from rising temperatures, acidification, plastics, oil spills etc.  In the last decade there are 1/3rd less large fish in Australian waters.  Our famous Great Barrier Reef is dying and supposedly to save it, our government has just made “the single largest investment in history”  – $440 million dollars – to a private foundation,  without a tender process.  It is developing as a huge scandal.  The Great Barrier Reef Foundation avoids the words “climate change” and “global warming”, has a staff of 6, and the Chairman’s Panel includes CEO’s from fossil fuel companies, even Peabody Energy, notorious for funding climate-deniers.

We are in severe drought throughout NSW and Queensland,  there are horrific and deadly wildfires and floods around the world, and the record temperatures in Europe.

Global warming experts warn that the earth is already halfway to the point of no return.

Such is the present uncertainty in the world – and the plight of millions of displaced people, the environment and animals are fighting to be heard.

In Australia however, we do have many people dedicated to animal’s rights and welfare.

Donalea Patman www.fortheloveofwildlife.org.au loves lions and works tirelessly on their behalf.  She successfully lobbied for Australia to ban the importation of lion animal body parts or trophies. Trump’s son likes hunting animals and is “rolling back” equivalent USA legislation – issuing more Lion Trophy permits. Donalea has recently been participating in a Parliamentary Enquiry into the unregulated domestic trade in ivory and rhino horn. She and another tireless advocate Lynn Johnson (www.natureneedsmore.org) have both been producing effective ads discouraging the unregulated trade in ivory and rhino horn.

I do want to acknowledge the sad death of Tony the Tiger, and despite the efforts of so many, never left the Louisiana Truck Stop in the USA.

Artist Nafisa at Animal Works (www.animalsworks.com.au) recently staged Tiger Tales, an exhibition raising money for tigers. She was assisted by Imogen and Sara Menzies, cat lover extraordinaire, who now concentrates on protecting and conserving big cats in Africa through the organisation African Cat Project www.africancatproject.org

Coincidentally, Animal Works is staging a 4 day exhibition of Christian’s photographs  at H’Art Matters Gallery, Mosman, Sydney – for World Lion Day 10th August, and finishing on Christian’s birthday – today 12th August!

Today we celebrate World Elephant Day!

Champion race horse Chautauqua

HORSE RACING AND GREYHOUNDS:  I have to admire the handsome Chautauqua, the Grey Flash, an eight year old champion horse that has won nearly $9 million in prize money. Recently he has refused to leave the barrier for the sixth time. Bravo!  Racing is still dogged by accusations of doping, corruption, wastage and cruelty.  Banning use of the whip would create a level playing field.

A few years ago the NSW State Government for very good reasons after several scandals, abruptly banned greyhound racing.  This was handled appallingly. There was a backlash, and then a back flip.  Now emboldened, despite a mass grave of greyhounds found recently, there is to be a Million Dollar Chase in Sydney later in the year! The NSW Government put in $500,000!

George Adamson and Christian

George Adamson and Christian

We have always been asked how long did Christian live and how big did he grow?  This is him at his biggest – and probably early 1973.  George Adamson said he had grown into the one of the largest lions in Kenya. So he was in good condition when he presumably set out to create his own territory and pride in early 1973 in the direction of the more bountiful  Meru National Park.  The wild local lions at Kora had made life very difficult for him from the start, but he had survived.

He was never seen again, and may have lived another 10 years.

Happy Birthday to Christian and my best wishes to all of you.

Christian the Lion. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

Happy Birthday Christian!

I love celebrating this day and thinking about Christian and his life. I am looking forward to hearing from some of you today as I know many of you feel the same!

I love this photograph of Christian and I think it was one of the first taken by our friend Derek Cattani possibly in January 1970.  Christian was about 5 months old.

In London recently I enjoyed reminiscing with friends like Derek who were very close to Christian. We all agreed he was the most wonderful animal with the friendliest and most engaging nature, and he deserved his story to turn out so well. He faced a very uncertain future when he was for sale in Harrods department store in London (in late 1969), but he miraculously returned to Kenya in 1970, to George Adamson of Born Free fame.

George Adamson described Christian as surprisingly easy to rehabilitate into his natural life – after 5 generations in Europe.  Christian survived his first very vulnerable years and grew into a huge lion.  He was last seen in 1973 going off in the direction of Meru National Park where there was more game and possible respite from the wild lions that had made life difficult for him since he had arrived at George’s camp at Kora in Kenya.

One of the many lessons we learned from our experience with Christian was that while some see us as “saving” Christian – and we did have the best (if naive) intentions, we were unwittingly participating in and encouraging the trade in exotic animals. Harrods Zoo and the rather ghastly pet accessories shop that replaced it no longer exist I was pleased to see on my recent visit.

Our visit and reunion with Christian in Kenya one year later in 1971 unexpectedly became an internet phenomenon in 2008, and a new global audience of over 100 million people became aware of Christian’s story.  (See here for TadManly2’s original reunion clip on YouTube which he re-posted.  He was the person who added Whitney Houston singing I Will Always Love You which helped the clip become so popular).

Many of you would have celebrated World Lion Day just 2 days ago. In this time of global political and social disruption, it is hard for animals to be heard and we must double our efforts on their behalf. Congratulations to Four Paws animal welfare charity for facilitating the recent removal to Turkey of 3 lions, 2 tigers 2 hyenas and 2 Asian black bears from a zoo in Aleppo, Syria. Local zookeepers have bravely tried their best to keep as many animals as possible alive during a terrible 3 years of war that has forced so many of the population to flee.

Christian in his favourite spot in Sophistocat. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

In London I saw Jennifer Mary Taylor who was a co-owner of Sophistocat where Christian lived and where we worked. Over the years many people visited her antique furniture shop to talk about Christian, even when she relocated. She has helped keep the flame alive.

It was also very good to see Christian’s friend Unity again after so many years.  She is an actress (in Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits for example) and had had a lioness in her apartment in Rome. She materialised very soon after we brought Christian home. They adored each other and she visited him nearly every day. She is quite small, and he could be boisterous and had sharp teeth and claws, so she often wore a coat for protection when she played with him. Sometimes I would hear her say…”You are too rough with me today I’m going to leave”. Christian would respond with contrite grunting noises.

I asked her why she had had such a good relationship with him. “I talked to him. We talked to each other”.

Christian and Unity in Dorking. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

Not many lions would allow themselves to play ‘wheelbarrows” but Christian had a great sense of fun and companionship.

In the subsequent years Unity has managed to find other exotic animals to meet and get to know, but Christian remains a favourite.

After the pleasure of knowing Christian, I sound a hypocrite advocating for people to not have contact with exotic animals, or keep them as pets.  However, people can get just as much pleasure and love from their dogs and cats –and looking after a lion, and the safety of all involved, was an awesome and scary responsibility.

MAIL: I’m so pleased that people continue to send stories into Christian’s website www.christianthelion.com.au. Joe recently wrote that when he was young he visited a house in the English countryside with “a lion in their tennis court”. “As years went by I thought that I had made it up because it seemed so unlikely”. Then a few years ago he saw Christian’s documentary and realised that it was true. His father was a chimney sweep, and can you believe, he is now the chimney sweep for Virginia McKenna at the same house where he saw Christian all those years ago!  As most of you know, Virginia McKenna  and Bill Travers played Joy and George Adamson in Born Free, and they were our introduction to George Adamson.

CHRISTINE TOWNEND: Christine’s memoir A Life for Animals was recently launched by Peter Singer in Melbourne. This was appropriate because Christine started Animal Liberation in Australia after reading Singer’s book in 1976, and then Animals Australia with Peter Singer in 1980. He wrote the Foreword to her book. Christine subsequently spent many years at Help in Suffering an animal shelter in Jaipur and is revered in India for her work for the welfare (and rights) of animals. She writes very insightfully (and modestly) about her 100% dedication and commitment to animals, her feelings about them, and her time in India.

A Life for Animals can be ordered here .

With help and support Christine and Jeremy Townend founded animal shelters in Darjeeling (DAS) and Kalimpong (KAS) in India. She runs them from Australia with the help of excellent and dedicated staff. See the Working For Animals website for more background information and the invaluable work of the shelters.  I am on the Committee and hope to be attending the AGM with Christine up in those beautiful mountains next October.

Michael Kirby, esteemed ex High Court Judge, launches Christine’s book A Life for Animals on the 25th August at Gleebooks, Glebe, Sydney. See details here.

DONALEA PATMAN: Congratulations to Donalea who has been awarded an OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia). She was instrumental in prohibiting the importation of lion trophies and animal parts into Australia – which was followed by a number of other countries. She is currently working on a campaign No Domestic Trade against the selling of the surprising amount of ivory and animal body parts in Australia. You can support and find more information about this campaign here.

Tiger in Ranthambore National Park 2016. Photograph Ace Bourke.

TIGERS: Tigers had their International Tiger Day on the 29th July, and these beautiful animals, like most wildlife, need our support more than ever.  I can still feel the excitement at seeing this tiger in the wild last year in India.
Tigers in India: There have been at least 67 unexplained deaths of tigers so far this year. While there are several reasons for their deaths, primarily it is the illegal trade in tiger body parts to China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Cambodia. Tiger populations had been increasing, but there are still only approximately 2,226 in India, representing 60% of the world’s population of 3890.

Tony the Tiger. Photograph sourced from change.org.

Tony the Tiger: See here for the latest news on Tony who is now 17 and not in good health. Tony has many supporters and the ADLF in the USA do their best in court case after court case to have Tony removed from the Truckstop in Louisiana to a better environment. The owner seems to just keep stalling with appeal after appeal, and somehow got “specifically exempted” from the 2005 Louisiana State law banning the private ownership of big cats. For Tony to be relocated to a reputable sanctuary please sign this petition here.

Kato in Symbio Wildlife Park. Photograph by Ace Bourke.

Kato the Tiger:  Like many of you, I have found the lack of progress for Tony the Tiger very depressing. I was reluctant to go to my local zoo to meet the tiger that I heard was there. I finally met Kato last week. He looked beautiful of course, but was listless. He is 15 years old and like Tony is half Bengal and Sumatran. He could live to 20. He had quite a large green space…but nothing to do. I pointed this out to a staff member who replied that as tigers are “solitary” this was OK. In the afternoons Kato goes back to no doubt a much smaller space behind the scenes, and is rotated with a brother and sister. She has been placed on contraception and these Sumatran young adults apparently get on well, although I would think in the wild they would have separated by now.

ZOOS: No matter how much more space animals and birds are given in zoos, or how attractively designed and landscaped, to me most wildlife in zoos seem resigned, depressed or anxious to escape. Zoos in the last few decades have had to deal with changing community attitudes to animal rights and welfare, and have had to emphasise and develop their serious and successful research, educational and conservation efforts. Kato’s zoo looked well maintained with many young staff. After going straight to Kato the tiger I, with others, gawked in wonderment at birds, cheetahs, kangaroos, snakes etc, and even farmyard animals seem exotic these days. I have to admit that people, especially children, were just fascinated. They are inheriting a world at a tipping point for wildlife and of species extinction. Will they be better educated and anymore effective than we have been on behalf of animals?

Despite the enjoyment animals provide, I don’t think they can be used for our entertainment at their expense.  Our relationships should be mutually enjoyable and beneficial.  We have our companion animals, we can watch many excellent wildlife documentaries, and these days many people can travel at least once to see the wildlife they are interested in.

I recently received a thoughtful email about issues to consider when donating to animal causes. Of course some support the work of zoos and some do not. Most animal shelters do a good and necessary job of looking after and rehousing animals in an urban setting. Some people only want to donate to a specific animal or project while others do not like donating to “administration” or boy’s toys.

I think conservancies are a very good idea where buying up and often fencing tracts of lands protects the wildlife.  Re-establishing traditional path ways and safe corridors, for elephants in India for example, is also proving very effective.

Peter Singer, a generous donor to animal causes, has a website listing the 2017 best charities working against global poverty.  He identifies outstanding charities “that will make sense to both your head and your heart”.

Love Story 1972 by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (1932 – 2002). Courtesy National Gallery of Australia.

ABORIGINES: Aboriginal artefacts and pigments excavated at a rock shelter in the Northern Territory are 65,000 years old. This has recently been verified by radiocarbon dating and Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL). Australian Aborigines are the world’s longest continuous living people and culture. Isn’t this amazing? They have survived invasion, colonisation, and mass dispossession.  They continue to endure marginalisation and discrimination when they should be respected and celebrated. Aboriginal art, for example, was described by Robert Hughes, the late art critic for Time magazine as “the last great art movement of the twentieth century”.