August 12, 2019


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.


25 Responses to “HAPPY 50th BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN”

  1. Barbara Lensing Says:

    Well it is 2021 and I find myself first reading this blog. Thank you Mr. Bourke, for sharing your thoughts and memories of Christian. He was certainly a handsome boy with a very charming personality. I am so thankful for people like you and Mr. Rendall who certainly contributed to Chistians well being and did everything you could to see to it that he had the best outcome possible. Thank you!

  2. Maryanna Says:


    God please bless all of the people in the world, all of the children in the world and all of the animals in the world.

    I pray that the day comes when we can all live in peace.

    Thank you, Ace, for this beautiful blog and all of the responses. They brought tears to my eyes.

  3. Shannon Says:

    I can’t believe it’s been 50 years. My Heart fills with sadness, when I think of the Animals. Nothing has changed, thanks to Mankind, taking Land that belongs to Animals. With Conflicts, comes Death.
    Canned Hunting and Hunters, Poachers need to be Stopped.
    I can’t watch Born Free without crying….to this day.
    I Rescue Kitty’s, so I pray all Animals have gone to the Rainbow Bridge and are at Peace.
    I have watched all things on Christen.

  4. Anna Parkinson Says:

    wonderful to see you keep our memories alive – I was In Kenya when this happened and have followed all events through Virginia McKenna – it’s very much appreciated you keep contact with us all – UNFORGETTABLE FILM showing your wonderful reunion with Christian – never to be forgotten or get tired of watching the film again and again!

  5. Sherry Liston Says:

    Thank you so much for this yearly letter, and for keeping us updated on wildlife progress and preservation. I absolutely love Christian’s story! I hope you and John know how much love and happiness has been spread by your experience with Christian. I am a grade 5 teacher, and I share your story with my students every year. They fall in love with Christian and are inspired by the love and bond you shared! Again, thank you! Happy birthday, Christian❤️

  6. Maryanna Says:

    Hi Ace, I SO look forward to your annual post on Christian’s birthday. What a happy day when he was born fifty years ago. I pray he somehow knows how many people love him, including me, and that life is just not the same without him.

    Christian was so extraordinary and good natured. I am heartbroken that Sony will not be making his movie. It’s a shame that they bought his rights, such a waste. His life would make such a wonderful movie, especially with all the CG capabilities and his special story.

    I worry about our planet and the beautiful creatures that are so endangered. Hopefully, the tide will change soon, before it’s too late.

    My condolences on the loss of your cat. It’s terrible when you lose a beloved family member.

    God bless you. I look forward to next year’s post.

  7. Hélène Says:

    Today is a very great day because Christian is 50 ! WOW! His inspriring story has touched so many people. Thank you Ace and John for having raised Christian with all your love and to G. Adamson and who helped Christian to reintegrate the wild life. Thank you also to D. Catani for his beautifil photos and videos of that great story. Let’s hope Christian had a great life with beautiful little cubs. My heart is still beating for you Christain and I will nerver forget your so wonderful story.
    Happy 50th birthday Christian !! XX

  8. Avi Gupta Says:

    Wishing a very happy birthday to Christian. We miss him a lot. All the aspects you wrote in the blog are true. It feels so bad that 🐨 Koala is at risk government have to do something.

  9. Dean Walburn Says:

    I replied yesterday twice and don’t see that my comments or any have yet been posted. Dean Walburn

  10. Rajat Mishra Says:

    Hello Anthony Ace Bourke sir. I m not sure if u will read my comment or not. But however I have a great respect for u. I m from India and I recently viewed christian’s reunion video on YouTube. Then I took to net to read his full story. Finally I came to know about George Adamson and christian’s later life in Africa. Sir, after knowing the full story it’s great to know that still till today u love christian as much as u loved him earlier. It proves that true love never fades away with time. Still christian’s memories r with u. U may remember them and ur wonderful time u spend with christian. Happy birthday to christian on his 50th one and my best wishes to u sir. May u be blessed with a long and healthy life.

  11. Steve Hit Says:

    Happy Birthday Christian and thank you Ace for your continuing efforts to do what you believe is good and the right thing to do

  12. Patricia Camper Evitts Says:

    Happy birthday beautiful Christian! I know you are in heaven looking down on us all. God bless your sweet soul and spirit!

  13. Arthur E. Rash Says:

    Hi Ace, I found Christian The Lion on Facebook and in looking at about, I see its linked to you. Please post a Happy 50th Birthday Christian 1960-2019 and a new photo so the site makes its rounds again, just post something every 3 months. I Love Christian !

  14. Fran Whittle Says:

    So happy to receive your on-going thoughts and activities in this troubled world and dangerous times for all animate and innate forms. So many people here feel absolutely helpless in the face of the likes of Trump and Johnson and the rise of fascism again. I try to say, as you are doing, that any positive act is worthwhile and we MUST keep communicating with each other even if we sometimes feel a lone voice. Thank you for all your work and sharing. Fran Whittle Lewes East Sussex UK

  15. Coreene Kennedy Says:

    so GOOD to have your latest news update. Can only agree with all you have said re climate, extinction et al. I have just finished reading ‘A Private Empire’ by Stephen Foster – Scots in India ; I am also researching my own European ancestors in India, Ceylon courtesy of the VOC (Dutch East India Company), the Fall of Tipoo Sultan and my Swiss 5X grt grandfather’s connection to Lachlan Macquarie. I DO hope that you write a book about your own connections to this country. Have a wonderful trip to Morocco, warmest regards as ever, Coreene Kennedy (ex Australian Craftworks, The Rocks)

  16. Georgina Cuppaidge Says:

    So good to hear your news Ace.

    Any chance of a detour via London en route to Morocco? Would love to see you.

    Cheers, Gx


  17. Emma Leuw Says:

    Absolutely loved reading your blog! And happy birthday Christian ❤️🦁❤️
    We are really friendly with John we met him at a Tusk event and he has gone on to help me fundraise for lions and tigers speaking about fabulous Christian and we have together presented art awards for David Shepherd’s art awards.

    All the programmes etc about Harrods and Christian have been incredible so don’t worry at all

    And please keep blogging!
    One day I would love to meet you too!

    Love and big cat hugs

    Emma Leuw

    Sent from Emma Leuw’s

  18. Ria Theresia Says:

    For every nook and cranny in a forest, there are animals and plants that call it home, let’s save our wildlife habitat and please don’t pass by animals in need and stop animal cruelty.

    Happy Birthday to Christian,

  19. Dean Walburn Says:

    Happy Birthday to Christian and blessings to Ace and John and others for giving that little lion cub the opportunity to live in the wild with his fellow lions.
    My physician husband was doing some ENT work at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London in1969, and when we visited the zoo at Harrod’s we saw two lion cubs who we found out many years later were Christian and his sister, when Ace and John brought their story to our generation through the Whitney Houston’s ‘I will always love you” video, the TV documentary and their book, “Christian the Lion”. We werevery excited to know that we had actually ‘met’ Christian and his sister many years before!
    I express sincere gratitude to Ace and John for gifting their heartwarming story of Christian to the world, and I send wishes for God’s grace and peaceful and eternal rest to Christian.
    Mrs. Dean Walburn – Tuscaloosa, Alabama USA

  20. Christine Townend Says:

    Thank you Ace for writing such a good blog, and thank you also for mentioning WFA and the shelters. The canned lion issue is tricky and yes, not good that you have no control over what Harrods does about Christian. And so good you mentioned climate change and Australia’s failure to do anything about it. Extinction of species is also a huge problem and no-one (the government) is doing anything about it. Land clearing exemptions are now allowed which is a worry. C. xxx Dr. Christine Townend OAM, christownend@bigpond.com + 91 7407093230 (Indian Mobile) +61 2 47842979 (home in Australia) 61 450 925 091(mobile in Australia)


  21. cacau0715 Says:

    Thank you so much, Mr. Bourke. August 12, 50 years of Christian’s birth. Here where I live is still day 11. In the UK, where he was born, it is already dawn on the 12th, when 50 years ago a charming being came to the world. I never saw him in person, I didn’t even know about him until recently. Still, I miss him. The people, like you, who helped build such a beautiful story are responsible for a whole flood of good feelings and good deeds toward the causes of animals and therefore nature. Thank you very much from my heart. A simple tribute, the photo of the edition of the book in Portuguese:

    Enviado do meu iPhone

  22. Dean Walburn Says:

    A Happy Birthday wish for Christian today. What a wonderful story and life he had thanks to Harrod’s,and Ace and John after his birth 50 years ago.
    My physician husband was doing some ENT training at St. Thomas’s Hospital in London in the Fall of 1969, and we visited the Harrod’s Zoo where we saw two lion cubs which were Christian and his sister! We later found this out when Ace and John made the documentaries, the student put the video with Christian and the Whitney Houston “I will always love you” on youtube, and Ace and John wrote the books about “Christian the Lion”.
    I believe that story and what all those involved were able to do for that lion cub was truly a remarkable and has continued to bring great awareness to the public about lions and their ability to exist in the past, present and future years.
    Blessings to all those who helped Christian and may Christian be resting in peace now and forever.
    Mrs. Dean Walburn – Tuscaloosa, Alabama USA

  23. Annie Says:

    Great to see your blog again….I love hearing about animal rights, especially big cats……XAnnie

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