August 12, 2017

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 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

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”.


  1. Ginnie Mayhew Says:

    im an August birthday like
    Christian. have visited the story many times now that it has been many years since Christens birth (and mine), i still go back and look through all the pictures of him, you and John Randal. Christian was different when he was born, giving him life with the two of you and get to live out his live in the wild with George and other lions. be well to all. i live in Newton MA next to Boston. OH, i was adopted, just like Christian.

  2. Prism80 Says:

    Terence used to use Dowsing to find where George’s Lions had got to. I have just finished reading Pride and Joy, and it was used to find the location of Koretta and that another lioness had died. I wonder if they ever used this after 1973 to see where Christian was? George wishfully speculated that he liked to think that Christian had made his way into Meru and maybe came into contact with Ugas and his pride as sometime.

  3. kiki70zg Says:

    Ace, there’s something really kind, humble and unspeakable with Christian and Christian’s story. And just to add one little coincidence: i was born on January 1970. and on the photo this is me and my t-shirt from the late ’70s. Happy birthday Christian and my best whishes to you, George, Derek and all of you!

  4. Francois Perez Says:

    Great to wake up to your blog and the memory of Christian. An inspiring blog and although the situation for wild animals is still not ideal, it is heartening to see so many dedicated people, including you, fighting for their right, the preservation of wildlife and consequently human dignity. Happy Birthday and best wishes for your work!

  5. Suzanne Says:

    I only just came across this magical story of Christian Ace and John yesterday. What a delightful coincidence to find this happened on Christian’s birthday! I’m enjoying to read all that has happened since and happy I landed on your blog. Happy Birthday Christian!

  6. AVI GUPTA Says:

    Happy birthday Christian. Can’t wait myself to read it. Such a great photographs of Christian and all those tigers. You do such a great work. Keep going……………..AVI

  7. kenjohns1 Says:

    Ace The photo of Christian the Lion made my day. It brought a smile to my face. So cute. Regards Ken ________________________________

  8. S.Y. Says:

    Each year, I look forward to Christian’s birthday because it gave me a gift that endures- love and hope. Just seeing that beautiful face fills me with such happiness, especially baby Christian on the steps of the Sophistocat. I am still moved by his life-quite a story and an inspiration. Thank you, Ace, for sharing all your memories and insights, and HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

  9. Hélène Says:

    A very special day to an excetionnal lion. You will always be in my heart Christian. Happy birthday ! XXXX
    Hélène (Canada).

  10. Happy birthday Christian, the most extraordinary lion. So sorry they haven’t made your movie. So sorry that Tony the Tiger is still in a cage. So sorry that Cecil’s beautiful son Xanda was killed with very little mention. When will the killing stop? So sorry for all of the beautiful creatures in cages and for the ones being hunted for their body parts. Thank you Ace for your wonderful blog and for keeping Christian’s memory alive. Thanks to John Rendall for his continued work for animal causes. Thanks to Tony Fitzjohn for his continued work for helping animals. Thank you to Dame Daphne Sheldrick for saving SO many orphaned animals, especially baby elephants. Thank you to all of the wonderful people who dedicate their lives to helping animals. 💕

  11. colleen paul Says:

    So nice to see you recording your memories of Christian and his friends all theses years later. His story and yours really touches my heart.

    God Bless You Ace Bourke!

    Colleen Paul

    Sent from my iPad

  12. Christine Townend Says:

    Thank you so much Ace for mentioning my book. Your blog makes a very interesting read – with gorgeous photos of Christian and also the story about Kato the Tiger. When you say your ‘local zoo’ which zoo is it? I agree with you about zoos. You know that Will Kimlyca said that ’the only thing you learn at zoos is that its okay to keep animals in cages’. I liked that statement. You are very good at writing. I think you need to write a book! I have forwarded your blog to Peter Singer. Thank you Ace again, C. >

  13. Dean Walburn Says:

    Happy Birthday to Christian and a world of thanks to you and John for enriching Christian’s life in so many ways and doing the same for so many of us by sharing Christian’s story and your part in it. You and John mean a great deal to the animal kingdom and to human beings through your great work.

  14. Brenda May Says:

    Love your blog and your passion Ace! Thanks for continuing to be such a strong animal activist and dare I say, a great human being! Xx

  15. William Abbey Says:

    Happy birthday Christian. Your story and life are truly an inspiration.
    Great blog as always Ace.
    William (Florida)

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