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!

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