August 20, 2014

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.

25 Responses to “IN MEMORY OF GEORGE ADAMSON 1906 – 1989”

  1. Stephen Elliott Says:

    I spent 3 months with George at Kora in the mid 80s. His stories around the campfire were always worth staying awake for. A truly remarkable man who constantly amazed me. I always had massive respect and admiration. When his brother wrote to me telling me of Georges demise, I was shocked and saddened. A truly great man.

  2. I shall never tire of reading about this remarkable history (hi-story) of Christian, you, John and the incredible Mr. George Adamson and his love of lions. For a long time after watching Christian on youtube running towards you and John – I wanted a lion – but it wouldn’t be Christian…he was a one off. thank you Ace for your inspiring blogs.

  3. Jessie Says:

    I salute you sir goerge for helping lions to rehabilitate and return back to wild
    # im fan of elsa and christian story

  4. Manel Dias Says:

    Mr. Ace Bourke, I am so genuinely grateful for you keeping the George Adamson’s unconditional sacrifices he made towards the African Lions, by commemorating his life till to date. He lived a simplest life in African Jungles, yet the impact he made on the wild animals and the legacy he left behind is Priceless.I wish Mr. Adamson, Christian, Boy & all the rest of whom he cared & loved … where ever they may be they all should be well & happy…All of their lives had been in the past, but the sweet memories they left behind, still sting pretty hard…

  5. josiane kiesecoms Says:

    I have see the story of christian the lion, 15 days ago on you tube and the fabulous men georges adamson, I am sad to learn his tragic death.God Bless.

  6. joseph gillette Says:

    yes George is one of a kind truly a man of love I never new the story of Christian the lion what he did was a true act of love even through Christian was never seen agin I hope he lived a long life with his pride you tear up the pictures of the pass and there was a lion called Christian at one time long ago and like ace said maybe it was a call from Christian from Africa it was sad that they set him free but was it right only Christian knows his friends did what they through christain would of wanted everyone wants to go home in the end live free and die home

  7. Manel Dias Says:

    I have read about the George Adamson and the Majestic Simba Christian over & over again & again. But never enough of learning about BOTH of them to say the least. I myself was born in Colombo, Ceylon & went to East Africa as a young girl at the same ERA. where Christian managed to enter into Kenya. I fell in love with Kenya/Tanzania right away. Learnd the language Swahili within no time. I have no doubt in my mind that people like George Adamson, Richard Leakey, Mary Leakey, Jane Goodall, Diane Fossy, Bernard G. (the author of the book, Serengeti Shall Not Die) and many others,why they fell in love with Africa and wanted to serve the wilderness and did so much to protect it. The beauty of the land varies from one part to the other,and yet they surpass many other countries natural beauties including it’s inhabitants. I totally enjoyed my living in Tanzania and often visits we made to neighbouring countries, mainly Kenya. I was over whelmed when I learned those very courageous, compassionate people who have totally, dedicated their entire lives to protect and help save these beautiful Animals. My hats are off to ALL those wonderfl people who have sacrificed their lives to saving and protecting these magnificent animals. The Present era governing bodies in those countries, need to take much more aggressive measurements to Protect the African wilderness and it’s inhabitants as the way once these compassionate individuals did. It is heartbreaking to see the current situation in Africa, where there are massive massacre of majestic animals taking place simply because they don’t care and have no empathy for any living beings. One thing is in their is the money & the profit only. In that essence the people who sacrificed their lives to save & protect the wilderness and it’s Animals were/are HEROES, and my hat is off for them.

  8. Judy Says:

    amazing – amazing – amazing

    • Manel Dias Says:

      George Adamson was a Hero in my eyes. The prominent figure in the era where many others did not care about the wild life or did not think much about saving & protecting them. But George Adamson sacrificed his life with full commitment towards the jungle animals, mainly adopting and rescuing the majestic Lions. Where ever you may be Mr. George Adamson, You may be well & happy and may you live in PEACE.

  9. Heulwen Renshaw Says:

    I only understand compassionate people, and looking at George Adamson tells me he was a compassionate man, he must have been to have enough wisdom to be able to understand animal behaviour…and wild animals at that. Lions are the most feared of animals, yet he made friends with all of them. Ace, (and John) you will be proud to have known the same feelings with Christian, having had him so young and watching him grow, and didn’t he GROW! I was amazed looking at his size next to George Adamson. Something else to think about is that Christian is still being looked after by George, along with all his other lions. Heaven awaits us all.

  10. sharon wardle Says:

    Thank you or sharing this with us, I loved the photos you’ve included, especially the ones of Christian. There are a couple of documentaries on youtube about George Adamson’s life & his incredible gift with lions.

    I think it’s ridiculous that PHASA say that “photographic eco-tourism” as “not commercially viable” It’s worked very well for wild tigers for years in India.

  11. tsavothelion Says:

    George was a magnificent example of a human being. He is the reason I became involved in lion conservation and I am forever in his debt for opening my mind and heart to these incredible animals.

  12. Hélène Says:

    George Adamson has left behind a treasured and priceless legacy, through its tremendous knowledge of lion’s behaviour. He has greatly contributed to the success of Christian’s reintegration to the wilderness, and he certainly deserves this recognition from the government of Kenya.

  13. […] a lovely tribute to George please visit Ace Bourke’s Blog. Ace Bourke along with his friend John Rendall had purchased a lion cub who they called Christian in […]

  14. Ann Hendrix Says:

    George is not buried beside Boy. He is buried by his brother Terence and the lions Super Cub and recently added Mugie. Boy’s grave is not far away. George at the end was buried by his brother rather than in the lugga by Boy.

  15. Anne Craggs Says:

    Ace, as always your blog is thought provoking, honest & sometimes brings me to tears. You are in the forefront of animal conservation & we so greatly need you and your wisdom. Bless You and thank you for enlightening all of us. from Anne, Lewiston, New York, USA.

  16. R.I.P. George. A true giant among men. Your memory continues to inspire so many. The world is richer for your presence – poorer for your passing. We all need to follow George’s (and Ace’s) example and throw ourselves behind the campaigns to save and protect George’s beloved lions.

  17. Juno Says:

    God bless George Adamson for his kindness to animals.

    Sent from my iPhone


  18. suestuart1 Says:

    Thank you for this interesting blog. It is truly upsetting that our precious lions are being threatened so badly and we must keep on highlighting and sharing to raise awareness. I appreciate everything you do for them. i adore them. I enjoyed the Kevin Richardson video, I love the sound of lions roaring and would never tire of it 🙂 Best wishes, Sue.

  19. Jilly Waumsley Says:

    George Adamson was my first hero when I read Born Free when I was about 7 or 8 and remains top of my list to this day. He was a wonderful man and I only wish that I’d had the opportunity to meet him. When I was in Kenya 3 years ago I thought about him all the time.

  20. Bonnie Weiss Says:

    I have so much love and respect for George Adamson and how he devoted his life to live in harsh conditions to protect those precious animals. What a truly honorable man he was.

  21. Devi Patarao Says:

    A tribute to Baba Ya Simba …. beloved George Adamson …. sure you are with your precious lions in Paradise even now. God Bless. There will never be another George Adamson!

  22. Hello Mr. Bourke,
    I can’t believe 25 years have already passed since George Adamson’s tragic death. He must have been an incredible man – brave, yet unassuming, very down to earth. I am glad his work is not forgotten after all these years, and that he will be recognised by the Kenyan government. Thank you for sharing these very warm photos. I have just re-read A Lion Called Christian and Tony Fitzjohn’s ‘Born Wild’ so it was even nicer to see the photos.

    Best wishes,

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