George Adamson and his lions

George Adamson and his lions

Today is the 25th anniversary of George Adamson’s death.  The Kenyan Wildlife Service are going to acknowledge this with a service at George’s camp Kampi Ya Simba at Kora, Kenya, on the weekend of the 30th August..

Through their observations, books, journals, photographs etc, Joy and George Adamson assembled the largest documentation about lion behaviour in the world. The book and film Born Free of course reached many millions of people and Elsa the lioness altered people’s perceptions of animals.  While some argued their methodology was “unscientific”, this huge archive may prove to be invaluable with only 20,000 wild lions left in Africa.

While Joy Adamson loved animals, she had a volatile and rather frenetic personality. George on the other hand, was very calm and considered.  He managed to create a neutral space where the two apex predators managed to co-exist with each other with respect and understanding.  These days he would be called a “lion whisperer”. Looking back now I wonder if he had too much confidence in all of us – the other people around, visitors, lions etc.

George’s assistant Stanley was killed by the lion Boy and was shot by George. When we were first there Boy would walk in and out of our tent at will.  At that stage Boy did not like “our” lion Christian and we were always uneasy about him. He had had a troubled life and we did not know him. He was however, Christian’s introduction to the lion world. Boy could have killed him as Christian was a potential rival as a younger male.  But after many months of rejecting him, Boy came to accept and love him and they became inseparable.  Christian had waited very patiently for this, but it had been heartbreaking to watch.

On the 20th August 1989 a guest at Kora was driving to collect another visitor arriving by light plane when she was held up by Somali “bandits” on the road.  George Adamson heard gunfire, jumped in his vehicle, and then drove straight at these people. He died in the proverbial “hail of bullets”.

George in his camp

George in his camp

George was 83. He was actually getting too old to remain living in such isolation – although he had described it as the happiest period in his life. I love this photograph in the hut where George worked, ate and socialised. Note the large photograph of Christian and George’s assistant Tony Fitzjohn on the wall. George did not play favourites but he deeply loved Elsa, Boy and Christian – and they loved him back just as deeply.

George Adamson was buried at Kora, beside his brother Terence.  The lion Boy, who George had known since he starred in Born Free, is buried nearby.

George Adamson and Christian

George Adamson and Christian

I also love this photograph – two friends just sitting together.  This must be one of the last photographs of Christian (early 1973?) as he is very big. In a recent blog I mentioned what I interpreted was Christian’s “cry for Africa”. “MoonieBlues” consequently sent me this fantastic “cry for Africa” from one of Kevin Richardson’s lions roaring as Kevin is recording a promo for World Lion Day!

CACH: Months ago I rang and then emailed the South African High Commission in Canberra to ask them their position on Canned Hunting.  I have to say their response, when I finally received it, appalled me.  I was sent the “position paper on lion hunting” from the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa (PHASA)!!!

My opinion is that the South African Government are allowing the shocking farming and hunting of lions to go more or less unchecked, most probably for the income it generates.  PHASA claims 9,000 overseas hunters visit South Africa every year making it the top lion hunting destination in Africa!  Not a claim to boast of. Tourism is one of the Governments “six core pillars of growth” and PHASA disparages “photographic eco-tourism” as “not commercially viable”. Let’s show them how wrong they are. I’m sure in time they will notice a boycott by tourists who are opposed to the killing of Africa’s iconic wildlife, and who want their contribution to be one of protection not exploitation.

A conveniently ambiguous distinction is drawn between “canned hunting” (shooting drugged lions in a confined space) and the “responsible” (whatever that means) hunting of “captive-bred” lions on private lands. Canned hunting is actually illegal, while shooting captive-bred lions and trophy hunting is not.  PHASA states that private enterprise owns 3 times more land dedicated to wildlife (and 4/5ths of game) than all state owned parks and reserves.  PHASA states that it will monitor the aptly named South African Predators Association (SAPA) – but who would actually police the activities on private land?

George and Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

George Adamson and Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

I just do not believe that hunting contributes to conservation, helps local communities with training and jobs etc, and builds a “sustainable” future for lions and other wildlife.  PHASA even claims that trophy hunting was a major contributor to saving the white rhino!

Australian rugby union player Clyde Rathbone recently visited a lion park out of Bloemfontein in South Africa where young lions were handled, and Clyde realised that he and the others had been drawn into “complicity in the exploitation of African wildlife”.  Read his thoughtful blog here. His behaviour contrasts with another rugby team visiting South Africa. The Crusaders from New Zealand were photographed with a zebra they had shot!

The more I learn the more horrified I become. I am determined to be part of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting and I will keep you informed and I ask you to keep me informed.

I suggest you contact the various South African High Commissions and let them know your feelings about the farming and hunting of lions.  I also ring travel agencies that advertise tours to South Africa and I ask if visits to wildlife sanctuaries include cub petting and walking with lions.

George by Ace Bourke

George Adamson by Ace Bourke 1972

George Adamson and his brother Terence were both born in India.  I am looking forward to shortly visiting there again – this time to give the Keynote Address on September 12th at the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) INDIA FOR ANIMALS conference in Jaipur.

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HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

August 12, 2014

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Christian was born on the 12th August 1969 in Ilfracombe Zoo, Devon, UK. As most of you are aware, we don’t know what happened to Christian.  He was last seen by George Adamson in 1973 setting off in the direction of Meru National Park, Kenya. We like to assume he created his own pride and lived happily for quite a few more years.  Free.  Lions live approximately 10-12 years in the wild, although up to 18 years in captivity.

These photographs are stills taken from my Super 8 footage on our visit to Christian in 1972.  I never saw Christian (or George Adamson) again.

I don’t advise kissing lions – unless you know them very very well! George Adamson loved lions above all other animals, especially their capacity for love and trustworthiness.  However, he did say “why should we expect lions to be more trustworthy (and predictable) than humans?”.

Miraculously, we did not have one incident with Christian.  He could be mischievous, naughty and boisterous – but he was never anything but loving with us.  He seemed to know our circumstances were unique, and that he could trust us implicitly.

Of course I appear a hypocrite now, protesting about wildlife sanctuaries that farm lions and encourage cub petting and walking with lions.  Our circumstances and our relationship with Christian were different however, although we now accept we should never have been allowed to buy him and that we were participating and perpetuating the trade in wild animals.

Part of Christian’s rehabilitation by George Adamson in Kenya was to minimise his contact with humans as in the future they would be a threat to him and vice-versa. This is probably why Christian was initially cautious as he walked down the hill towards us when we had our first reunion with him in 1971.

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World Lion Day was celebrated everywhere. Thanks for your responses – and apologies to any organisations and websites I didn’t mention last blog – like Great Cats of The World.  They re-blogged, and linked to similar blogs and Facebook pages. View here.

Last night I attended a lecture by Professor Peter Singer of Animal Liberation fame. He was asked when did he become aware that animals have feelings – are sentient beings.  He replied it was just obvious growing up with the family cat Buddy.  I think most of us have had similar realisations.  Of course his lecture about the major issues we face – like poverty, farming of animals, climate change etc was hugely instructive.  Apart from becoming vegans, he did emphasise that if we want to contribute, we can donate to the many causes close to our hearts.

TONY THE TIGER URGENT ACTION: We have been asked to urgently circulate and sign these petitions by August 17th for Tony the Tiger, still in his cage at the truckstop in Louisiana, USA

Petition 1 – Sign HERE.

Petition 2 – Sign HERE. After signing this petition, an email will be sent to you & you must click the link in the email to verify your signature and make it count!

Tony’s continuing imprisonment despite the efforts of so many people makes me feel very frustrated as a blogger and an animal rights advocate.  However, I am told that when I ask if you would consider signing petitions I think are important, there is a discernible spike in signatures and that makes me very very appreciative of you all. As a group – we can make a difference!

But this is Christian’s day.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY. I find it extraordinary the spell he still casts over me – and many of you. Now more than ever we need to make the world and all who share it more united, compassionate, loving, thoughtful, and caring……

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Lion in Shaft of Light by Nick Brandt.  Image Courtesy Source Photographica.

Lion in Shaft of Light by Nick Brandt. Image courtesy Source Photographica.

Let’s celebrate lions today, mindful that there are approximately only 20,000 lions left in the wild in Africa. This is an appalling statistic – there are 80-90% fewer lions now than in Christian’s time. Let’s resolve to do something about it!

The Campaign Against Canned Hunting (CACH) is gaining momentum in opposing the shocking farming of lions for cub petting, walking with lions and ultimately being shot by “hunters”. Canned hunting does NOT assist in the conservation and protection of lions, and hunting does NOT assist in conservation. We must discourage people from visiting or volunteering at wildlife sanctuaries that encourage cub petting and walking with lions…..and to me hunting is incomprehensible.

See the CACH website here, and their presentation video about Canned Hunting here.

Donalea Patman is Melbourne based and is a tireless supporter of lions and wildlife.  See her website fortheloveofwildlife here.

I met Alison Lee Rubie at the first Global March for Lions which she helped organise. See her Lobby For Lions website. I look forward to reading about her next trip to Africa later in the year.  She has made me aware of  the reputable wildlife sanctuaries in Africa – and see the Volunteers Beware Facebook page here.

The Born Free Foundation is very effective and “takes action worldwide to save lives, stop suffering and protect species in the wild”. It was founded in 1984 by the late Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna who starred as George and Joy Adamson in the film Born Free. Virginia remains very actively involved. Of course it was Bill Travers and Virginia who accidentally discovered Christian in London, and led us to George Adamson in Africa for Christian’s rehabilitation.

The Elsa Conservation Trust is one of the earliest organisations working on behalf of animals and lions especially. It is based at Elsamere beside Lake Naivasha in Kenya and we visited Joy Adamson there.  It is now a wildlife retreat and education centre. 

Panthera is the largest wild cat conservation organisation in the world and is solely committed to the 38 species of wild cats.

The George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust works very effectively on behalf of animals in George Adamson’s name.  GAWPT has also overseen the rehabilitation of George’s camp at Kora which was abandoned after his death in 1989. GAWPT is very mindful of the need to work with local communities.

I have blogged previously about Aidan Basnett and his Adamson Facebook page – he spent time in Africa when much younger and remains a very enthusiastic fan of the Adamsons. He is now organising tours to Kenya – see details of his tempting 2015 tour here.

It was AnimalWorks www.animalworks.com.au who asked me to join in the Global March for Lions, and they want to make conservation “everybody’s passion by spreading the word about the natural world and what we can do about it”.

Lion Aid www.lionaid.org are concerned with all things related to lions, and an interesting report on their site about poaching, states that it is not more guns that are needed, but “sustainable employment for all people, so they are not tempted into poaching”.

My thanks to all these organisations that often or exclusively prioritise lions.  Of course there are many other organisations all over the world with committed and deeply concerned people working for animals and wildlife.

But today I’m especially thinking of all those magnificent and majestic lions – some living freely, and far too many in captivity. 

In an interview I was asked – unexpectedly – what did I think was the significance of Christian’s story coming back via the internet so many years later?  I said “I think it is a cry for help” and I think many of us have heard that cry and are determined to do something about it.