One of the last photos of Christian, with George Adamson

I look forward to Christian’s annual birthday blog. I love it when many of you add your birthday wishes to him as the world wakes up country by country on August 12th. It does seem ironic that New Zealand and Australia are ahead of the rest of the world! Pandemic permitting, I am about to move back to the inner city of Sydney from the outskirts after many years, and trust I will be online to post your birthday wishes as they come in.

I appreciate that that quite a few of you Christian fans and cat lovers keep in touch over the years, like Hélène in Canada and William in Florida. William recently emailed that he is supporting the Herd Elephant Orphanage in South Africa, where he follows their activities on video updates. With the lack of tourists, and the pandemic in Africa, people are choosing to support – and follow – animal organisations in this way.

Barbara also emailed quite recently that Christian “was certainly a handsome boy with a very charming personality”. He was innately even-natured and personable – but I think we gave him the room to develop his personality as many of you no doubt do with your “companion animals”. Of course love and trust were also big factors.

Earliest photograph of Christian and his sister in Harrods

Mehadi emailed me the photograph at the top of the blog (sourced from my 2014 blog!), and the image above out of a magazine article. I think it is the earliest photograph of Christian (left) and his sister I have seen. Mehadi, now living in Canada, grew up in India near the Asiatic lions in Gir which I have also been fortunate to visit. He points out how the Asiatic lions were nearly extinct until Sir Muhammad Mahabat Khan 111 initiated what may be the first lion conservation effort and today there are more than 400 lions.

Scarface (Source: Ecowatch)

Mehadi also mentioned the death of Scarface in Kenya in June. The famous Masai Mara lion lived until about 14 which is a long life in the wild. He was identifiable by the scar above his right eye, and had a long reign as the head of several prides. Mehadi hopes that Christian, who “revived” his interest in lions, also lived a long happy life and said “thank you Christian! We dearly remember you. Your charisma continues to enthrall people like us and many more to do meaningful work for conservation”.

I think with our various lockdowns we have fallen even more deeply in love with our animals. I know I have with my cat, and I hope she does not resent the move back into the city just as many people are moving out! The pandemic has probably affected all of us in various and sometimes unexpected ways, and I know many of us in Australia are still traumatized by the bush fires of 2020. My thoughts with people in Canada, America, Turkey and Greece facing equally terrifying fires, while there have been huge floods in Europe, India and China.

The latest IPCC climate change report confirms that greenhouse gas concentrations have increased, that urgent action is required, and that Australia is “lagging”.

New Chinese Book Cover

BOOK: It is good news that there is to be a new edition of A Lion Called Christian in Chinese. Some of you ask if a film about Christian will ever be made, and unfortunately it seems unlikely. After contacting me, a UK producer on my advice then wrote to SONY asking “is there any way we could progress a TV drama based on the story of Christian?” SONY, who own the rights (seemingly forever) replied “Thank you for your note but we are not interested in releasing rights.”

LONDON LETTERS: In early COVID I assiduously read and edited all the letters I wrote to my parents in Australia from London between 1969 and 1973 and commented on them from the perspective of 50 years later. One day I may publish them. My 21 year old self had grown up under decades of conservative government and even a White Australia policy. The letters illustrate a rite of passage and the attempts to find a career, experiences many of you could relate to. Naïve as I was, in the letters I do have an opinion on everything, and come across as very intolerant and very judgmental. Some key people in the animal world do not come out of it well, but neither do I. Unlike some of the humans, Christian’s behaviour in contrast just shone in every aspect – like pure gold!

The letters describe in detail how I REALLY felt about the experience with Christian, and explain why I returned to Australia and how it had changed dramatically, especially with new Prime Minister Gough Whitlam. I had finally became politicised, and found the career that I was searching for. It was, as they say, “under my nose”. Many of my friends were artists, and visiting galleries was a favourite pastime. Why not make a career out of what I love doing? I became a gallerist and curator. I think witnessing the flowering of contemporary Aboriginal art and its international acceptance has been the highlight of my life.

I am now writing up key incidents in my family colonial history in Australia, concentrating on our relations and encounters with indigenous people. Most colonisers and invaders dispossess the indigenous people, and are still failing to acknowledge or compensate. Our Aboriginal people are the oldest living race on earth, and have had to be particularly resilient to survive.

We marvel at their achievements particularly in the arts – their wonderful art works, films, stars like David Gulpilil, or the dancers and productions of Bangarra. But while there is a well-educated younger generation coming through that hopefully will force change, most still live in poverty, with shocking suicide and incarceration rates, and are subjected to ongoing racism and marginalisation.

The Lion Who Came To Stay (Book cover: Source Booktopia)

This book by fellow Sydney-sider Victoria Mackinlay is about her grandfather who was asked as a school boy in England in the 1930s what present he would like from India. He replied “something alive”. It was thought an elephant was impractical but an obliging Maharaja sent a young Asiatic lion called Singh. They spent an idyllic summer together in a rather grand sounding country home, but of course Singh grew quickly and ended up in London Zoo.

I feel very lucky that this was not Christian’s fate.  

AUSTRALIA: Our conservative government never fails to disappoint. They have still failed to respond after four years to the Uluru Statement from the Heart from our Aboriginal population. This was a most generous, thoughtful and unthreatening way forward, beginning with a “Voice” to Parliament, to advise, not overrule, on Aboriginal issues. After 8 years of conservative government there is still not a viable energy or climate change policy, and they remain hostage to the fossil fuel industries and Rupert Murdoch. There have been no necessary and overdue reforms, no transparency or accountability, and we are trillions in debt.

Australia was lucky initially with the pandemic as we closed the borders, and they remain closed, heartlessly leaving 35,000 Australians still stranded overseas and unable to return. A scandalously slow vaccine rollout leaves most of the population threatened at present by a new outbreak of the very transmissible Delta variant. Unfortunately the Government Opposition is ineffective.

The Great Barrier Reef (source: The Guardian)

On a more positive note our state governments do seem to be a little more aware of climate change and environmental problems. There were heavy losses of wildlife in the bushfires of 2020 which left us all scarred. Our koalas are in danger of extinction and we do have to act urgently to protect their shrinking habitats from urban development and land clearing. Hump back whale populations have increased – and are presently migrating up our east coast. The Federal Government was very offended that UNESCO recently threatened to list the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger” and urged Australia to take “accelerated action at all possible levels” on climate change.

There remains a failure of leadership around the world and the pandemic has illustrated this. At least Trump lost the election but he has not gone away. He has left an appalling legacy of creating doubt over news reporting and scientific facts as well as unleashing conspiracy theories. Modi in India, like Bolsonaro in Brazil, scandalously allowed the virus to spread.

Christine Townend, Ace and writer Jeffrey Masson

WORKING FOR ANIMALS: This photograph was taken by WFA President Jeannette Lloyd Jones when Jeffrey Masson, distinguished writer about animal behavior, came to one of our very informal WFA meetings. Jeffrey and his wife now live in Sydney.

Our staff at the two Working for Animals shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong in India have bravely soldiered on during the Covid crisis, which has been especially devastating in India. We can now follow their work by excellent photographs on Instagram (@kas_das_animal shelter_kas_das), Facebook (Kalimpong and Darjeeling Animal Shelter), our website www.workingforanimals.org.au  and our newsletters.

I sincerely hope you have all managed this difficult year without too much distress, isolation and loss. I found the Olympics a welcome distraction. We all are facing great uncertainty and I fear some of you must have suffered greatly. I’m sure your companion animals have been indispensable.

Many people celebrated World Lion Day on the 10th August, but every day is World Lion Day to me!