August 12, 2020

George Adamson and Christian

George Adamson and Christian (c. late 1972- early 1973)


During the last world crisis, the Global Financial Crisis, Christian’s “reunion” footage with us in Kenya on YouTube was a soothing and positive diversion, and this helped to make it so popular. I have been getting emails recently with people saying they have been watching Christian’s story as a distraction, or to make them feel better in “lockdown”. It amazes me that Christian still casts this spell over so many of us.

See here should you want to watch the version of our reunion with Christian with Whitney Houston’s song, as it gets harder to find on YouTube, and needless to say, it is my favourite version.

Many of you no doubt celebrated World Lion Day on August 10th, and International Tiger Day on the 29th July.

LIONS: We all remain concerned with the crisis in lion and wildlife populations. I am presuming “canned hunting” is not thriving with the widespread COVID-19 virus in South Africa, but at a time like this the owners of the numerous “lion farms” that have profited from this dreadful practice may start to maltreat the animals including not feeding them properly or looking after them. Even worse, the current situation may encourage the participation in the illegal trade in lion body parts. The human population in South Africa, with widespread unemployment, is also faring very badly.

Image source: Allen & Unwin

While I have as yet only read an extract, there is a new book The Last Lions in Africa: Stories from the frontline in the battle to save a species by Anthony Ham. He is, to my surprise, an Australian.

The author states that as of 2019, there are approximately 22,509 lions left on the African continent. At the end of the C19 there were 200,000. They have disappeared from 95% of their historical ranges, and from 26 countries. By now we know most of the reasons, primarily, destruction of habitats, hunting and human and animal conflict. The author also notes that there are approximately only 4,000 tigers left in the wild, and 1,000 mountain gorillas.

Depressingly, in my blog after blog over the years, we have been watching these figures diminish despite many organisations and individuals doing good work. Rather like action, (or inaction) on climate change, nothing seems to be reversing the “extinction vortex” we are witnessing.

These giraffes from the Mogo Wildlife Park, NSW, nearly died in the bushfires and have now welcomed a new born calf

BUSHFIRES:  In Australia we had a horrific fire season with 10 million hectares of the east coast burnt, which was news around the world. We were all in shock at the scope, the intensity, and that the fires were described as “unstoppable”. I live surrounded by a National Park which was very dry, but we were lucky this time. The smoke and air quality from the fires was a danger to health over vast areas. I put my art collection in storage, and like many others, had a suitcase and the cat box by the door for months on end.

Quite a few people lost their lives, including fire fighters, and many lost their houses and businesses. Many animals died – they estimated a billion at the time, but that has just been updated to 3 billion dead or displaced. This does not include the cattle and sheep lost. Despite the early start to the fire season and the incredible ferocity of the fires, despite all intelligent people and fire experts pointing to climate change as a factor, our conservative government said “now was not the time” to talk about such things. Now we are heading towards the next season as ill prepared as we were last year. We continue not just to ignore the experts but also indigenous fire practices honed over centuries.

As many as 5,000 koalas lost their lives during the fires, and their habitats destroyed.  There is even talk of extinction. Our NSW Government has stated it wants to double koala populations by 2050, but this government has not stopped land clearing and habitat destruction, which like creeping urbanization, are the major threat to koalas, along with bush fires, disease, dogs and feral animals. The government fully supports mining, even allowing mining that threatens Sydney’s water supply.

Australia has the worst record in the world in relation to the extinction of mammals – 30 species lost since colonization (1788), and 14 in the past 50 years.

COVID-19: Who would have thought how much the world would have changed since Christian’s last birthday? We have all been overtaken by COVID-19 and I hope all of you and your families are managing. Everyone has been affected in some way. Australia had coped quite well up until recently, although due to some inexcusable quarantine carelessness, we now seem to be having a dangerous “second wave” in Victoria, and some outbreaks in my state of NSW. Luckily as an island continent we can close our borders, although our state borders are more porous. The lucrative international tourism industry and the international student sector, have been decimated.

Interestingly, the Federal Government has responded quite well and suddenly and unusually, listened to medical experts and scientists – unlike their ongoing climate change denial. The government is now getting very worried about the economy and is anxious to reopen everything and for it to be business as usual. They have been forced to embrace spending and borrowing billions of dollars after criticizing the Opposition for years, although it was the ALP who were then in government and successfully navigated us out of the Global Financial Crisis.  Our economy and jobs growth have not been strong for years, and as yet there are no proposals or ideas for job creation or economic stimulation. The Treasurer even referenced Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as his models for economic recovery which is rather indicative of the government’s outdated ideological mindset.

The arts and entertainment industry here has also been decimated and given very little support, and none of it as yet has been forthcoming. Galleries and museums are tentatively reopening. Under the cover of “Covid”, funding to our national broadcaster the ABC, universities (especially “the Humanities”), the public sector and the arts, all imagined enemies of this government, will be minimized.

People around the world have appreciated surprisingly clear skies and clean water. Now would be an ideal time to have a new low carbon and green approach to the economy, and transition to renewables. In Australia we still don’t have an energy policy that business can invest in, and the government remains fixated on coal and gas. Now is also the chance to review: overdue taxation reform; much needed public housing policy; aged care; wage growth and the casualization of labour; and to consider free universal childcare, and the vital role of women (and migrants) in the health and service industries.

I’m glad I don’t live in Sweden where my age group seems to have just been sacrificed for the greater good, although their economy, and the number of deaths, does not indicate that this approach has been successful. I have been very worried about friends in the UK, the USA and Brazil. Trump and Bolsonaro have both been criminally negligent. I am also very worried about friends in India, and especially Rajat, a very intelligent and dedicated young fan of Christian’s who is battling a serious disease I’m sure he will overcome, and my thoughts are with him and his family.

Over the last year, the leaders of America, Russia and China have shown their true colours, and there has been a dangerous unravelling of the old world order. Cyber surveillance and warfare is the norm and it is difficult to ascertain the truth with the claims of “fake news” and the widespread conspiracy theories. In the USA I have no confidence in Biden, but removing Trump would do the world a service. My prayers for the future of the Uyghurs and Hong Kong, and for the citizens of Beirut.

Congratulations to the few countries like New Zealand, Taiwan and Vietnam that acted quickly and effectively against the virus. In Vietnam they have banned the trading in wild animals and their body parts which is good, although some are allowed for “medicinal purposes”. Wild life products do seem to be incubators of disease.

So take care, wear a mask, wash your hands and social distance.

The ice keeps melting…. Photograph by Michael Ginzburg for

We listen to scientists and medical experts with the epidemic – why don’t we listen to climate change scientists and their predictions?

SELF-ISOLATION: How have you all managed in self-isolation? People initially seem to have found it frustrating but also quite interesting. Most have enjoyed more time with the family, although “home schooling” has been a challenge for many. With so many working from home, and Zoom, this may change work habits and paradigms. Musicians have made music in their bedrooms, and artists and galleries have been imaginative about art online. Cooking, eating, gardening and DIY home renovations seem to have been popular.

Many people binge watched Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness on Netflix but I resisted, although I did later see a documentary on these unsavoury people, messing with such beautiful animals. There are more big cats in private hands in the USA than are left in the wild. There is no conservation value as their breeding practices are indiscriminate. What is going to happen to the animals if these zoos are closed down, and the owners in jail?

Many of us have been supported at this time by our companion animals, who have had to adjust to us being home much more! Initially there were many more adoptions from animal shelters which was encouraging and understandable. I do wish even more people would adopt these animals, at risk of euthanasia, rather than buying expensive hybrid dogs like Cavoodles, Groodles and Moodles. I have noticed that Dachshunds have become very popular. My cat has been a great source of comfort even if she has manoeuvred/manipulated me into now being fed on demand, and I now realise she can sleep 23 hours a day.

I have got some overdue writing projects actually finished or well advanced, and have read some very good books. I have found classical music very soothing. Luckily Bundeena where I live is very beautiful and this winter quite mild so I walk every day. I have always felt in quarantine here!

“Misunderstanding” by Tony Albert. Courtesy Sullivan +Strumpf.

BLM: Aboriginal people in Australia have been protesting in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA and across the world, and of course they have much to relate to. As in America, there has been a growing section of the white population that also agree that enough is enough. Aborigines have a shocking incarceration rate, and there have been many Aboriginal deaths in custody, with no-one EVER bought to account.

White people have increasingly had to face our privilege in the last few years, and acknowledge the results of dispossession of indigenous people by colonisation. We also have to realise the amount of “casual” racism that exists, let alone the overt racism people of colour deal with on a daily basis. Enough IS enough!

Recently, the mining company Rio Tinto blew up two caves in the Juukan Gorge in Western Australia that were sacred to Aboriginal people. Artefacts dated to 46,000 years had been found there, so the caves were one of Australia’s most significant archaeological sites. The company said it was a “misunderstanding” – hence why one of our best Aboriginal artists Tony Albert called his artwork “Misunderstanding”. Google him to see more of his wonderful work. The nation was very shocked – briefly.

WORKING FOR ANIMALS: Our thoughts are with our WFA staff in India where the virus is particularly severe. The best news however is that the new cattery at the Kalimpong Animal Shelter (KAS) is now being built and finally cats will have the necessary space that they require. We are particularly grateful to Laura Louie and Harry Bohm who very generously donated money to purchase the additional land and build the cattery. I am very much hoping I can visit when travel is permitted again.

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s new book

BOOK: Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson has a new book Lost Companions, Reflections on the Death of Pets. This is possibly his 13th book, and dogs have been his speciality. Many of us have had the trauma of dealing with the death of loved pets, and Jeffrey recounts various stories about our special bonds with animals and the different ways people deal with their grief. I always regret that it is not possible to express our last words, explanations, or our thanks to them for all they have meant to us.

Jeffrey mentions Christian, as an example of interspecies relationships. Of course we don’t know what happened to Christian which I am quite relieved about. That is one death and trauma we didn’t have to face. About our reunion with Christian, Jeffrey, who is a friend of mine, says about me “I understand why this single encounter has stamped his life forever”. I think it has but I’m not sure how! While I was not surprised Christian remembered us, I may have been surprised at just how exuberant he was. Jeffrey noted what I also found extraordinary, that Christian’s “pride” who were not familiar with humans, milled around us, caught up in and sharing Christian’s excitement. He was loved by lions and humans alike.

MOROCCO: I was very fortunate to have a great trip to Morocco, Paris and London late last year, as international travel for us all is unlikely for the foreseeable future. There were cats and kittens everywhere in Morocco – no doubt too many, but I was pleased to see they were treated well.

In Fez I visited the American Fondouk, which was established in 1927 by an American woman to offer free veterinary care for “four legged” animals – mules, horses and donkeys. If these animals get injured, the families often have no other source of income. American Fondouk (hotel) is very well resourced with the latest equipment – for weighing and moving heavy animals, an operating theatre, and a test laboratory etc etc. The staff and volunteers were very welcoming to me – as they are to anyone who would like to visit and see their work. The founder’s family continue to support the Fondouk, but extra donations are always appreciated.

Speaking to the two young vets who showed me around, I said I had been lucky enough when I was younger to meet and know Joy and George Adamson. To my surprise, they had never heard of Elsa the lioness, the Adamsons, or Born Free. They said “we only know about those two young Australians who took their lion from London back to Africa”. They seemed to believe that I was one of them!

I was very shocked that generations now may not know Elsa’s extraordinary story, and the film and book Born Free that affected millions of people all over the world in the 1960s. Although I didn’t read the book at the time, I was very aware of the story. We were fascinated by Elsa’s affectionate relationship with the Adamsons and her successful rehabilitation back into the wild. It was almost unimaginable. Like David Attenborough who had begun making his documentaries, the spotlight was put on wildlife, and the affirmation that, like us, all animals, including “wild” animals, were sentient beings. I finally read Born Free a few years ago, and Elsa, like Christian, was an exceptionally intelligent animal. The Adamsons could take her on holidays, and she would just jump into the back of their vehicle. Joy Adamson was a very creative woman, and the photographs in the book were wonderful.  I have seen the film more recently at fund raising events, and it remains amazingly fresh, and a feast for lovers of lions.

I can’t really completely explain or understand why Christian’s story still has such resonance so many years later. He was very charismatic, attractive, and full of personality.  His life was very well documented, and years later, he has had the benefit of the social media age and YouTube.  He demonstrated an obvious capacity for love. He too was successfully rehabilitated, and we can presume a happy ending. For some people our story also represents a more adventurous and less regulated era …… what do you think?

I would love you to Leave a Comment on your thoughts on what Christian and his story (or Elsa and Born Free) has meant to you!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN we are all still thinking of you, especially today.

Christian photograph by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian photographed by Ace Bourke 1972


  1. Jacqui Says:

    I have just heard about Christian the Lion and read your book, A Lion called Christian. I did cry (a lot) because I can’t help wondering whether Christian, being a gentle sociable lion with such love for you, would have been happier at Longleat where he could have seen you regularly and had a ready made group of lion friends? I found it so sad because this exceptional lion had no choice but to head off alone into the wilds of Africa.

  2. Miranda Paech Says:

    Good Afternoon Ace
    Thank you for your piece about dear Christian. Your book is a treasured possession and has a special place on my desk. Christian and his story hold a special place in my heart. Because of George Adamson, Gareth Patterson, and yourself and John and the stories and wonderful books and the amazing animals lives that you all shared, I have gone on to assist with the conservation of lions and rhinos through my association with Drew Abrahamson (“Captured in Africa Foundation”) and Carl Thornton( “Pit Track K9 Conservation and Anti Poaching Unit”) as their Australian Ambassador. You played a part in the direction my life has taken and for that I truly thank you.
    Kindest wishes
    Miranda Paech
    Miranda Paech@loveforanimalsnb

  3. Maryanna Says:

    You are loved worldwide.

    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 the day comes when we can all live in peace.

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

  4. Joan Gregory Says:

    Happy birthday to Christian and his loving personality that inspired so many, including me! In reading your post I looked up the U-tube With the Whitney Houston music, brought tears to my eyes! What an rare and beautiful moment between man and animal.❤️. We are surviving with the social isolation but very difficult. At times we play cards to past the time, and watch movies. I am still outraged at the dentist who killed Cecil and to learn his practice is on shambles, dirty, unorganized, rating lower than ever. Christian and Cecil top my list for rare and wonderful lions. Where can send a donation who would most benefit ?? Have donated To the Koalo tree rebuilding two times. Glad to hear you are safe and well . I also pray for the world issues, very scary and sad. Take care! Joan and Garry, Sacramento

  5. I find the whole story about Christian extraordinary. I go back to it time and time again. I’ve asked myself what is it? What makes it so compelling? For me it provokes such a mixture of emotions, I want to reach through the screen and touch that beautiful lion myself. He literally embraces you, and the fact that he is nearly knocking you over adds a little humour too. At the same time there is something slightly unfair about it all. The love that all three of you have is so strong yet you cannot be together. How you ever walked away from him, I will never know.

  6. Sabrina Broussard Says:

    Happy Birthday Christian! Your story will live on forever in our hearts!

  7. Hélène Says:

    It’s always a great pleasure to read your very interesting blog each year. Christian appears majestic on this photo with George Adamson who made so much to help Christian to return in the wildlife. Christian life’s story remains alive because it means the feelings and all the love he had for you. Happy Birthday dear Christian XX !

  8. Angela Charlotte Heun Says:

    Since I explored your heart touching story on YouTube years ago, I could’t stop to watch it again and again and again. So I got better involved to important details what I might have missed before… I was born on 12.08.1962. So I learned about your era and life circumstances in those days many years later. Meanwhile I understand a lot more how you were feeling in those crazy days, smile. But the love of a lion to a human beeing I would interpret more like a deep bond on a higher level, seriously. I feel the same for all animals and with some of them speechless communication works. Peaceful silence and slow movings are a good language to understand each other. Today, we think of him. Happy Birthday, Christian – where ever you are around, you will hear us. You loved. And we will always love you and keeping you in mind!

    My birthday wish today: Freedom – Peace – Health for all of us.
    Thank you, Ace – for your post.

    Love & Hug from Germany

  9. cacau0715 Says:

    Thanks a lot! Happy birthday Christian.

    Enviado do meu iPhone


  10. Jilly Waumsley Says:

    When I was a child in the 50s I read ‘Born Free’ and fell in love with Elsa, George and Joy and dreamt of having my own lion. You had that privilege and I have been obsessed with Christian and your story since. The murders of both Joy and George were dreadful and I wish I had known them and the Africa of the late 20th century when all your adventures took place. The world seems a very different and darker place now. I will never forget the stories of Elsa and Christian and my only regret is that I wasn’t part of them.

  11. BW Says:

    Christian represents a reinforcement of the amazing, unexpected connection that a “mere” animal can have with us humans. They have a limited means of expressing that connection, and it enjoins us to use our higher mental abilities to realize what they are saying to us, how they can appreciate us as much as another human could.

    Their getting what they want (food, toys, our company) makes them happy and our reward is that it makes us happy, too. Watching Christian in the video get his reward of seeing his two best friends evokes a happiness for him (for all three of you).

  12. Bev Kemp Says:

    Happy Birthday Christian! …….there is a saying that “someone only dies when the last person speaks their name”…….thank you Ace for keeping Christian alive in all our hearts forever ❤️❤️❤️ Xx

  13. Christine Townend Says:

    Good that you mentioned Ace, how lion habitat – and lions and tigers – are getting diminished. It was an altogether interesting read, especially about the bushfires and the dumb government not doing anything about climate change. And our govt. is doing nothing ‘Australia has the worst record in the world in relation to the extinction of mammals – 30 species lost since colonization (1788), and 14 in the past 50 years.’

    Dr. Christine Townend OAM, Founding Trustee, DGAS, Landline in Leura:+61 2 47842979 Mobile in India: +91 8890949309 Mobile in Australia: +61 450925091


  14. Immense gratitude to you for Christian, for your life & work in this world. Lions are very important to me. It’s a long story – I’m now 75. When I was 68 I fulfilled a life’s dream of going to Africa. Over a total of 3 month’s I spent every day with 2 brother lions in a Namibian wildlife sanctuary. In their presence I hand wrote a manuscript for a book I entitled God is a Lion. It’s part biography, part creative theological speculation, part elegy for the wild. I would love to send you a copy if I had your address?

  15. Says:

    Happy Birthday Christian, you’ve enlightened many humans to the intelligence of animals.  You are an amazing Rockstar. You’ve made an indelible mark on my heart, and on my mind on the way I view animals.

    Ace Bourke, I fell in love with you, too. You had an amazing connection with him, and he demonstrated love for you.


  16. Bobby Comber Says:

    Good afternoon Ace.
    I have just read your very interesting piece, and was especially moved by your words about the frightening toll on wild animals in Australia caused by the extreme fires earlier in 2020.
    As a young man, I travelled across Africa as a driver with an overland company, in Landrovers, from Marrakech to Nairobi and was lucky enough to come close to animals, including beautiful lions. That was in the early 1970s, an experience that is no longer possible because of conflict zones, the loss of habitats and widespread poaching.
    In Morocco, there are cats everywhere and they outnumber the dogs, who can be quite intimidated. Cats are generally respected and well looked after in Marrakech, and there are of course many that live their lives on the streets. In Sydney, I am surprised by how few cats I see outside, taking the air and exploring.
    I have circulated the video of Christian to many friends in the U.K. and Europe. They have loved watching it, and some of them still remember his and your presence in London in the 1960s.
    Congratulations on a wonderful blog covering so many important subjects
    of which we all need to be aware.

  17. kvs1939 Says:

    ACE Christian’s birthday comes around so quickly each year. Thank you for your thoughtful and interesting blog.

    Kind regards

    Keith Keith Vincent Smith

    On Wed, Aug 12, 2020 at 9:16 AM Ace Bourke’s Blog wrote:

    > acebourke posted: ” HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN! During the last world > crisis, the Global Financial Crisis, Christian’s “reunion” footage with us > in Kenya on YouTube was a soothing and positive diversion, and this helped > to make it so popular. I have been getting emails ” >

  18. Arthur Rash 李小龙 亚瑟.爱德华 Shen Zhen China Says:

    Thank You Ace and Happy Birthday to Christian and You.

    This is a wonderful posting although sad in several areas as you know. I still live in Shen Zhen, China on the border to HK. There is basically no virus here since February 1st except for the occasional people who arrive with it.

    Shen Zhen has 25 million residents and just 464 cases were confirmed with 4 deaths. There was never a lockdown here, never any social distancing and masks were only mandatory on buses and trains. And being 73, I often wore a mask on the bus or train as a precaution even before the virus because of people coughing, sneezing, etc.

    Please be safe, eat well and exercise, D3, D and B vitamins, Zinc and Selenium are considered best for any of the corona family of viruses.

    Once again, Thank You
    Arthur E. Rash


  19. bodhiha Says:

    Happy birthday, dear beautiful Christian! Long gone but never forgotten. You inspired me to love wild animals especially big cats. Frolic in peace wherever you are…

  20. Rajat Mishra Says:

    Happy Birthday Christian. I know u may have definitely lived up the best of your life. And a blog written wonderfully! Christian continues to live in tens of millions of his lovers across the world. Young people like me will move forward your legacy & there are miilions like me. I am so glad u poured your humble wishes to me in your blog. I am recovering quickly due to support I receive from u & many others. May Christian live eternally happy always. Happy Birthday Christian wherever u are. U live in uncountable people still today. #Christianlivesinall.

  21. Says:

    Happ earthly birthday to Christian on August 12. I know Jesus is taking excellent care of him.

    God bless Ace and Jon!

    Sent from my iPhone


  22. Rajat Mishra Says:

    A very happy birthday to Christian. Although no one may know what happened to him, but yes since he had grown so big so definitely he must had lived atleast another 7-8 years in Meru National Park. And in his whole life, he would have always remembered the two gentlemen who did so much for him. He just loved both of you as deeply, as one can. I remembered his birtday date- and was waiting for your yearly blog. I am so glad you mentioned me in it & poured your humble wishes. Yes, I am recovering quickly & will be 100% normal in few months due to support that I get from u & many others. A blog covering all issues- Christian, lions, Bushfires, Global politics & Covid 19 crisis. And written wonderfully. Even young people like me & a lot of Indians have fell in love with Christian since we came about his story. And he continues to live in tens of millions of his lovers across the world. May he be happy eternally always. And best wishes to Ace Bourke sir from me. Happy Birthday Christian wherever u are. #Christianlivesinall.

  23. Dean Walburn Says:

    It’s wonderful to be reminded once again of dear Christian’s birthday and of his story’s importance in the study of the lion species. So many kudos and thanks go to Ace and John for their decision to purchase Christian from Harrod’s Zoo in 1969. It has been such a special gift to the world.
    My husband and I were living in London at that time as he was doing some training in Ear, Nose and Throat at St. Thomas’s Hospital and we saw Christian and his sister in the Harrod’s Zoo for sale. They would be 51 years old today. We had married in August in Alabama before leaving for 3 months in London. So Christian’s birthday is also our anniversary!
    The books Ace and John wrote about Christian and the videos which have been on Animal Planet and the Internet are wonderful and share his happy journey with the world.
    Blessings for Christian’s life and memory and to Ace and John for sharing his touching story with so many. Rest in peace, dear Christian, you are loved.

  24. Sherry Liston Says:

    Thank you for your yearly email! I look forward to your news every August! I am a teacher in Mississippi, USA. I love the story of Christian! For the past few years, I have turned the story of Christian into a week-long reading unit with my 5th graders. My students absolutely fall in love with Christian. Then, they begin to love Ace and John! Why? Because of the loyalty and perseverance you showed in taking care of your lion friend. The unit culminates with us watching the reunion video (and me weeping). It is amazing to me how your story, Christian’s story still touches hearts. I think it gives kids hope that there are good people in a world that is often unpredictable and overwhelming. Thank you, Ace, and happy birthday, dear Christian!

  25. Annie Kelly Says:

    Lovely to get this from you. I always enjoy your concise and informed summation of world events.

  26. Hi there blog looks good.


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