Happy Birthday Christian

August 12, 2010

Last visit to Christian 1972

Christian was born 12th August 1969. This is my favourite photograph of me with Christian, and I don’t think it has ever been seen before. I was not aware of it until a friend gave it to me in London last year. I cried. As it is 1972 it was probably taken by Tony Fitzjohn, now the Field Director for the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust.  It turned out to be my last visit and we never saw him again.

Sometimes I could read Christian’s eyes and mind and I could feel extremely connected to him, and sometimes I found him totally impenetrable, and I was completely irrelevant. This photograph for me sums up the bridge or link between humans and animals that Christian has now come to represent to many people. It also illustrates other factors that many of you have written to me about – “love” and “trust”, both in relation to Christian, and your own animals.  I’m very grateful for you expressing your emotions so beautifully and sharing them with me.

I’M READING: Christine’s Ark by John Little about an extraordinary Australian woman Christine Townend, a founder of Animal Liberation in Australia (with Peter Singer), and who then ran with her husband an Animal Shelter in Jaipur, India, for over 17 years. I have been lucky enough to meet her lately and I am going to visit their two animal shelters near Darjeeling in India in early November. I will blog much more about their marvellous work, and help if I can. Check them out – www.workingforanimals.org.au.  I think Christine Townend is an example of what the world needs badly – individuals that do not just accept the status quo and do something  personally about it, and make an extraordinary difference.

I have been fascinated by another Australian, Julian Assange, who also decided to act – against government dishonesty and the misrepresentation in the media of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. He created WikiLeaks – and recently uploaded many thousands of confidential US Government reports to show the real situation and the number of civilian deaths. Perhaps people, so badly failed by our leaders, are taking action themselves – and much of it through the opportunities the internet provides. In this case I fear his disclosures will have people killed in retaliation, and that he will be killed himself.

A mother Australian Sea Lion sniffs her pup. Photo Benjamin Pitcher SMH

I’M WATCHING: everything on our nerve- wracking if nearly farcical election, and David Attenborough’s new documentary series Life – a welcome antidote. My cat particularly liked the snakes, unlike me. Her brother prefers the computer and the mouse to television.


In the election we have the choice between an Opposition leader who is on record as saying “climate change is crap” with a pretend policy, and a dithering Government who did try and get the ETS legislation through parliament (blocked by the Opposition and the Greens can you believe), and now want to create “community consensus” through a Citizens Assembly! This was greeted with the derision it deserves. In fact 62% of the community WANT action and ex PM Rudd’s credibility crumbled on his shelving of this legislation.

Delay just means everything will be much harder and more expensive to turn around in the future. Other countries like Germany and China are seizing the new economic opportunities that are presenting themselves and a price on carbon is essential to stop uncertainty and to encourage investment in alternate and renewable energies.

I did secretly wonder, given the precarious global financial and economic situation, was it a good or bad time to introduce an ETS? A recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald (4/8/10) did quote the Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz as saying while he was pessimistic about the prospects for the global economy, strong policies to curb carbon emissions and a high carbon price could also help restore growth, and provide certainty for investment.

Bushfires in Russian, floods in Pakistan… and the recent State of the Climate 2009 Report illustrates how we have just had our hottest year in 2009 here in my State, and Australia’s second warmest year since 2005. It was good to see the exoneration of the scientists crucified by the climate skeptics who successfully stalled the global momentum for action over a few careless inaccuracies in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

GOOD NEWS: the BP oil well seems capped in the Gulf of Mexico, although the damage will remain for decades, and remember the threat to the Ozone layer and the hole above Antarctica? With the banning of CFCs, there is now optimism about slow long term recovery.

DON’T MISS:  We have been very fortunate to have  a unique exhibition of photographs by Alfred Stieglitz  from the Lake George years at the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Described as “America’s greatest photographer” these beautiful photographs from the 1910s-1930s rarely travel, and include of course photographs of Georgia O’Keeffe, New York, and fascinating photographs of exhibitions at Stieglitz’s 291 Gallery including the first exhibitions in America of Picasso, Braque and Brancusi. The exhibition closes 5th September.


The visit to Australia by American lawyer Joyce Tischler has focused attention on the huge growth and interest in Animal Rights. There seems to be a growing concern especially about the conditions pigs and chickens endure in relation to food production, and a determination to end some very cruel practices.


STATISTICS: 3000 pygmy hippos are left in the wild (and a new baby at Taronga Zoo), and the most exhaustive stocktake of life in the world’s oceans so far, the Census of Marine Life, found more than 230,000 species lived in 25 marine regions around the world, and Australia contains more than 33,000 known species of which 58 are threatened.


One year I must attend the Garma Festival in northern Australia, where this year there is a stated commitment to education for indigenous people. The festival is a good reminder of just how strong traditional Aboriginal culture remains in central and northern Australia, and the difficulties inherent in biculturalism and living in two often competing worlds. How do you fully participate in mainstream Australia as entitled when you live in very remote small communities with a strong traditional culture and few economic opportunities? Fortunately, many Australian Aborigines are  extremely good artists and this has provided livelihoods, and their best ones, like the late Emily Kngwarreye and Rover Thomas, have been fascinating the global art world for several decades.

Aboriginal dancers at the Garma Festival last year

48 Responses to “Happy Birthday Christian”

  1. Tanya Says:

    Christian’s eyes, says many thing!…RIP, Christian!…your legacy will live forever!

  2. Caro(lyn) Says:

    Always and Forever Christian….. He loved you Ace. Do you ever regret taking him to Africa? Love Christian so and through the Lion has become my fvourite animal…. as other big cats. I have seven cats Ace…. I love them all. We will meet one day across the line and Christian will be there. So glad somebody is carrying on GA’s work.

    • acebourke Says:

      No regrets at all taking him back to Africa. Especially compared with any other options.I view it as miraculous he got there. Lately I have been thinking of how completely happy and at home he was in Africa – despite wild lions etc. George Adamson called him “cheerful” and he always was.Well done on the 7 cats – never enough! ACE

  3. After reading all comments once more..it has left me weeping, just like the first time!! Christian will never be forgotten, or your love for him, you and John. When I go to youtube to watch you both with Christian..I can’t stop looking at just one or two videos…. I’m there all evening two and three hours just fly past.
    Thank you for your last blog. Love to hear from you.
    Best wishes
    Heulwen x

  4. Stansardo Says:

    I Think that it’s one of the best posts of this blog, maybe by the photo. Which show the very powerful and expresive looking of Christian, if i were you, probably i couldn’t lead Christian to África 😦

    • When I first saw the reunion on youtube, I truly felt the same, but when I learnt about their prediction I was able to get the full picture. The time would come when he would get so Big that people in authority would have most probably ‘taken’ him away anyway, and that would have been unacceptable. No, Ace and John persevered and eventually did the right thing. Thank goodness Christian got a taste of the freedom among his own species.
      By the way..have you read the books? It helps to read what exactly happened. I have the videos too, amazing insight to how he settled down in Africa with George Adamson.

      • stansardo Says:

        Hi Heulwen, yes, probably the youtube reunion is what makes you reconsider; really take him to africa was the best, since he is their natural habitat; but personally i think it was very difficult to leave him… I think that it was hard to separate from an animal that you have grown from small; but there is no doubt that they did the right thing for Chris; i agree with you, possibly the biggest problem had been the authorities.
        Yes, before found this blog i read in internet some books and opions from people about the history or the video in youtube; but still I decided to talk Anthony directly to know what it’s really true, because of the diversity of information… about he setlled down in Africa, i only can find photos in the net, but no videos.
        (a note; i’m spanish, and problably there are some things poorly expressed; sorry about that)

  5. Catherine Says:

    Dear Ace, I can’t believe I’ve never heard about or seen the now famous “Reuinion” YouTube video until just last week when I was on Facebook. That just shows you the potential of how many MORE people Christian’s story can still touch! I have always been an animal lover & my dogs & cats bring such joy to each day. I remember going to see “Born Free” with my parents when I was a young girl & how much I loved it. But there is something even more special about Christian and your & John’s story… something that goes much deeper & touches the depths of one’s soul. When I look at this 1972 photo of Christian looking into your eyes, I broke down in tears myself…what an AMAZING POWERFUL picture!! I felt an immediate correlation to C.S. Lewis’s “ASLAN” who represents “Christ”… Both ASLAN and CHRISTIAN demonstrated a great capacity to love unconditionally, show gentleness as well as strength, wisdom, loyalty & trust. I truly believe that God has blessed us with animals that we may better know Him. In the book of Revelation there is a verse that sums it up perfectly…”The Lion shall lay down next to the lamb & peace shall reign over all the earth”. What a fitting name you chose for your beloved lion cub as you shopped at Harrod’s that Christmas over 40 years ago. I have ordered your books, both the adult & children’s version as well as the documentary, & am wondering if this photo, taken by Tony Fitzjohn might ever available as a print for purchase? It is the most incredibly powerful picture of the love & trust that the two of you shared. Animals can teach us so much about life & I truly admire the work that you continue to do to make this world a better place. I truly hope that our precious animal friends who have gone on before us will greet us in heaven as meeting Christian would be the most GLORIOUS REUNION EVER!!! Blessings to you and your work, Catherine

  6. Usagi Says:

    Hi..I don’t know what to say to express my feeling towards this amazing relationship between Christian and you..I watched e videos on YouTube..I bet the both of you must have miss him very much..it’s really sad that everything has to come to an end..and separation is inevitable in life..:( merry Xmas to u!

  7. Heulwen Says:

    Sorry Ace. Yes, you’re right, I got carried away.., Christian is yours, and naturally you have your own ideas.

  8. Diane Bremner Says:

    In response to Heulwen’s great idea, see my poem at No. 16 of the Blog.

    Diane Bremner

  9. Michelle Johnson Says:

    Heulwen, I love that idea. 🙂

  10. Heulwen Says:

    I’m thinking..Wouldn’t it be great if all of us who’ve contributed to the blog wrote poems or songs about ‘Christian’. It wouldn’t really matter if the lines didn’t rhyme even, and they could be sincere, dreamy, cheerful, etc; and if there were enough poems perhaps you could compile them in appropriate order and have them printed in a book, with the photograph of you and Christian on the cover,or maybe you,John and Christian, that way generation to come could appreciate ‘The Miracle of Christian’. xx

    • acebourke Says:

      I hoped the blog would build an interesting story – of reactions to Christian, and just as importantly, people’s own stories about their animals….and it is. Something will take shape eventually…it has to have real originality and be something special. Thanks for your suggestions and the information you send. best wishes ACE

  11. Caro Says:

    My Beloved Christian…..

  12. Caro Says:

    If I could wake up one day and find myself in Paradise with Christian by my side I know I will have achieved Nirvana. I never tire of my Christian Aslan – what a precious gift he is.

  13. raghavendra Says:

    This picture of Christian is a really moving one.
    I literally started crying after seeing the photograph.
    Thank you sir for posting this on your blog so that people
    from all around the world can witness this love between you
    Christian. I feel like watching this picture again and again.
    I just cant get enough of it.
    I’m a 16 year old boy from India and would like to spread
    the message of wildlife conservation amongst my fellow
    country men after seeing this inspiring picture.

    Thank you sir.

  14. Raghavendra Says:

    I’m from India and I started crying literally when i saw this
    picture as i have seen your documentary on TV.
    I have always loved animals but there is not much opportunity for
    wildlife conservation and all such things in my place… I have one
    question for you sir. Does this place still exist where the reunion
    took place, is there any tourist spot over there? Do you have any
    information about Christian’s cubs? Because I would love to meet
    I am 16 years old and i have decided that I would do
    something related to wild life conservation.
    Thank you Sir.

  15. Carolyn Says:

    Forever Christian – My Beloved Aslan. I wish I could dream what happened to Christian. I have everything on Christian – only the Posters are too expensive. I would have one covering a wall. Goodnight my friend. Bye for now Ace.

  16. Heulwen Says:

    Just had another ‘look’ at Christian’s loving gaze into your eyes…makes me think of a well known film title..’For your eyes Only’.
    I feel deeply for Julian Assange – acting against government dishonesty and showing unbelieable courage in his undertakings, all in the course for justice, the consequences don’t bear thinking about, we can only pray for his safe keeping.

  17. sol Says:

    hello Ace…I saw the video last year…and yesterday I saw it again in discvery channel…I don’t know why I couldn’t stop crying… still can’t. That lion changed my life…and I would be grateful my whole life…now I have tears on my eyes…it’s amazing…I was having some problems when I saw that video…and now that I saw it a second time it’s like..I can see the real meaning of life…that nothing is impossible…I’m from argentina…and I haven’t got the book yet, but I will…and one day…I will write a song for him…’cause I’m a singer…then I will share it with u and all christian’s fans…I promise…I love christian…and it would mean a lot to me if you can answer me back…please…

    thank u for this blessing which is christian!! speechless…

    send my regards to John…


    • acebourke Says:

      I’m so glad Christian’s story is a comfort to you as well – isn’t it amazing 40 years on we are still drawing inspiration from him. best wishes ACE

    • acebourke Says:

      Looking forward to hearing your song about Christian! His is the most lovely story and we do hope a film will be made about him, as his story has touched so many of us. my best wishes Ace Bourke

  18. Erik Says:

    I always watch the reunion of you and Christian! 🙂 It always makes me cry and make my days! I am soo inspired by your story and I think of Chrisitian everyday! I miss him soo much!! I don’t use to cry to movies,but your story is soo touching and I wont forget it in my life!
    Take care Ace, and your friend John!

    Thank you for your beautiful story!

  19. Carolyn Says:

    I concur with you Heulwen – I think of Christian every day – I connect with this beautiful Lion – I love him though I never met him I feel I know him. I hope one day I will meet him in Paradise.

  20. Heulwen Says:

    Many have mentioned the special ‘love’ that both you Ace, and John had experienced with Christian, and someone said that they wished there were more stories of this kind, but I feel that there will never be another animal to compare with Christian – he was a one off. Thanks to both of you for making it possible by bringing him up to respect..just imagine – an animal such as a lion able to respect, understand, feel, think, behave, read your mind, and even ‘love’..is quite unique. no there will never be anyone quite like Christian, he’s my hero, I love him as if he were mine, although I never met him, like the other lady mentioned – I too have such strong feelings for him..I know that I shall meet him one day. Oh..here come the tears! God bless you Christian, I love you dearly..see you. xx

  21. scott Says:

    Always a pleasure to check the blog. The propaganda machine will do much to discredit and vilify Julian Assange but it would seem prudent to allow the perspective that he is a modern day martyr.

    much love.


  22. John Martin Says:

    Hi Ace,

    I have two house cats and watching you with Christian when you reunited with him gave me the chills in the most beautiful way. Your story was so moving. It was so neat how he remembered you. The love you and John Rendall showed for him was moving as well. We need more heroes like you guys and Christian.

    Last night I stumbled across a ‘FREE TONY THE TIGER’ website on facebook. Basically, a tiger who was born about 9 years ago has been in a cage at a gas station and put on display as a side attraction. You can read about it on facebook under same title ‘FREE TONY THE TIGER’. I was hoping you could tell animal loving friends about this as they only have 2900 signatures on the petition to free Tony. It is a heartbreaking story. Thanks, John in Elgin,TX

  23. Heulwen Says:

    I wonder what happened as regards your election today?!? Apparently they were neck and neck according to news reports on the internet.
    It’s quite frustrating when people are elected but don’t seem to carry out promises made, I know it’s happened here in the UK.
    I have also had a look at what is currently going on at the Gallery – via emails, and I couldn’t help but visit your interview with Bryan Seymour once again, which I always enjoy, I’ve seen it three times.
    I still havent visited Africa or Australia, but I will. I’m looking forward to visiting the Gallery very much, as I have been walkabouts inside via the internet.
    There is such a lot to see and do in the world. Animals are my weakness, they seem to find me wherever I go, cats come to visit me; I found a stray dog wagging it’s tail one morning at my front door; finches sit on my bedroom window – waiting for me to fill their feeders. I too, feel I am becoming a slave to these fascinating creatures!
    Thank you for your blog which I enjoy reading, but must take up a lot of your time. you must do whatever you enjoy doing, and the thing is -you can always give it up if you tire of it, but I for one look forward to them because they contain what we are all interested in, or at least should be. Perhaps sending out ‘good vibes’ around the world in order to get the universe into better shape would be a good start.

  24. Michelle Says:

    Dear Ace, I’m embarassed to admit that I’ve never read, “A Lion Called Christian” and if you will indulge me, I’d like to try and explain why I’ve procrastinated for so long, but I’m not sure if I can adequately explain why, but shall try. Please do excuse me if my post and subsequent written thoughts sound disjointed. I apologize in advance.

    I know both you and John have, inevitably, have received a lot of mail about Christian and his life and your experiences with him, which is completely understandable, his story has touched millions upon millions of lives and truly is the epitome of a love story.

    Let me preface the rest of what I am about to post, so that you’ll know where I’m coming from. Animals of all sorts have been my passion in life since I was a child…I’m now 44 years old, and unfortunately due to severe allergies and asthma, my dream of working with animals is an unfulfilled one. I do own two cats…that I’m allergic to, but because I refuse to live without them, I happily bear the brunt of sneezing and wheezing on an almost daily basis. Even though I cannot physically be in the presence of a lot of animals, I do everything I can to inform people of the importance of wildlife conservation, animal rights and other animal related issues.

    I’m sure you’ve read and have had spoken to you many kind and wonderful things about what you and John did for Christian, of which, I assume the words ‘bond’ and ‘love’ are extremely prevalent, as they play a massive role in this beautiful story.

    I basically wanted you to know that the main reason I have yet to read the book is simply because I am unable to stop crying tears of joy over this awe-inspiring story. Whether I watch a video, see a picture of Christian or even hear something about the upcoming movie on television, I cry.

    No story has ever affected me the way this one has. And I think it’s especially affected me simply because of my profound love of animals and the fact that I cannot be around them as much as I desire to be.

    OK, well that’s it, and again I apologize for the disjointedness of my written thoughts.

    Thanks for the blog and God Bless,


    P.S. After writing this post, I have ordered the book online, even though I do believe that it will undoubtedly become a tear stained mess…and I might have a headache for weeks due to crying, but it’s really the least I can do for Christian and all who knew and loved him.

  25. Diane Bremner Says:

    Regarding this photo of yourself and Christian, I must say, the hair on my neck stood up when I saw it, because a year ago, after I watched the You Tube clip, and then watched Christian, The Lion At World’s End, I wrote the following poem, as seen through your eyes (yours and John’s) and if any photo could be tailor made for my poem, it would be this one. I must commend you chaps, with the highest regard and respect, for the love and effort you gave to Christian’s life and well being.

    Forever Friends
    (As seen through the eyes of Ace and John)

    If we could revisit a moment in time
    We would cuddle you in our arms once more
    Before you grew too large
    As we look at you in awe

    If we could revisit a moment in time
    We would hug you a little tighter
    And caress your soft big paws
    As we look at you in awe

    If we could revisit a moment in time
    We would gaze into your loving eyes
    And capture your primal scent
    As we look at you in awe

    If we could revisit a moment in time
    We would stay a little longer
    To lead you to your future
    And the King that you became
    Where we look at you in awe

    Forever friends
    Your spirit rides the wind
    You are still here

    Composed by Diane Bremner – 2009


    I also remember Joy and George Adamson, the visionaries, what whey accomplished, and their legacy. “Born Free” says it all. Joy’s book is in reprint this August–a treasure of a read, which I read back in the 60’s. Elsa was very popular as was the new tune, “Born Free”, the first song I learned on my piano, and which song still makes my heart swell with the knowledge of its premise. Diane Bremner

  26. Hélène Says:

    What a beautiful photo!!!
    We can see so much love in the eyes of Christian.
    He seems to say: “thank you for everything you did for me”.
    It is generous of yours to share it with all of us.

    Thank you!

  27. Judy Says:

    thats a great photo of you with Christian Ace – its really gorgeous!

  28. Heulwen Says:

    The understanding between you Ace – is deep, – obviously private and complete. A magnificent picture. ‘Happy Birthday Christian’ from a sentimental, but sincere admirer.

  29. Grace Says:

    Ace thankyou for that beautiful photo of you and Christian. His eyes are totally captivating. Just looking at this photo makes me wonder if he knew that would be the last time he would see you all. I too would have cried if I had been in your shoes as the sadness I feel astounds me at the thought that you and John never saw Christian again. We have all been given a lesson from knowing about Christian’s life and just seeing the obvious love he had for you both. He truly was an amazing animal. Much love and best wishes. Kia Kaha.{This means be strong in Maori}.

  30. Carolyn Says:

    My comment appears to have been removed – did I offend somebody?
    41 years ago a beautiful and charismatic lion cub was born – he was later bought by two young Australian men and they called him Christian.
    Happy Birthday Christian

  31. BW Says:

    What beautiful, understanding eyes he had; it seems as though his soul was making contact with yours.

    Another great moment captured. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  32. Mayur Shah Says:

    Wishing Christian a very happy birthday! 🙂

  33. Carolyn Says:

    Thank you Ace – the photograph is absolutely beautiful – Christian’s expression is so human – so much love and understanding there. I weep when I think of this wonderful Lion – I have never met him but I know him and wish I meet him when I go on to the next step of life’s journey. I will always love Christian – through you all we have been fortunate to learn about this warm and charismatic Lion – thank you for this gift.
    I myself am from India though I have lived in Australia for a long ti me now. I still miss India tremendously.
    I felt really sorry for Mr Rudd – he had the right idea and so many of his policies seem to be showing dividends now. May God Bless him.
    Take care Ace – keep the spirit of Christian alive and it would be great to hear from you again.

  34. Marijane Swanson Says:

    Thank you for sharing your incredible picture of you & Christian…
    “A picture is worth a thousand words” has never been more true.

  35. Kay George Says:

    Thank you Ace for sharing this photo. It brings tears, what love! It is a birthday gift for me. My birthday is Aug. 14. Thanks for sharing 🙂

  36. Thank you so much for sharing that picture with us. I just want to sit and look at Christian’s eyes. The love in them is so clear.

    I’ve already made a post to my blog, telling people to come see this picture. May I post a small version of the picture, linking back here of course, as an added inducement for people to see your blog?

    Thank you again. You’ve made my day.

    • acebourke Says:

      I just want to sit and look into his eyes too! I am trying to ascertain who actually took or owns the image. I am presuming it was taken by Tony Fitzjohn, now of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust. Until then I probably can’t authorise the use unfortunately, as much as I would love to. May I get back to you about it? Many thanks ACE

  37. Elizabeth Dietz Says:

    What a beautiful and telling photo, thank you for sharing that…Happy Birthday, Christian x

  38. Radek Says:

    Happy Birthday Christian, thank you Ace, Radek

    p.s. health and my cat Beruška – http://www.funakis.cz/images/200000095-57bf059b2a-public/beruska1.jpg

  39. jj from California Says:

    Thank you for sharing your incredible picture of you & Christian.
    Never has the meaning “a picture’s worth a thousand words” been
    as crystal clear. ❤

  40. Michelle Says:

    I want to wish Christian a very Happy Birthday as well. Thank you for sharing that beautiful picture, Ace…it’s astonishingly heartwarming.

    Thank you as well for a beautifully written and informative blog. God Bless.

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