CHRISTIAN THE LION, SCARFACE, IPCC, MY LONDON LETTERS 1969 – 1973, COVID, AUSTRALIA, GREAT BARRIER REEF, POLITICS, WORKING FOR ANIMALS ETC

August 12, 2021

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

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!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN.  

35 Responses to “CHRISTIAN THE LION, SCARFACE, IPCC, MY LONDON LETTERS 1969 – 1973, COVID, AUSTRALIA, GREAT BARRIER REEF, POLITICS, WORKING FOR ANIMALS ETC”

  1. Carolyn Martin Says:

    Hullo Ace, The story of Christian is unique… if Sony dropped plans for a film…. I am sure another company can take it up…. Please pursue the matter!

  2. Kit Thackeray Says:

    Ace, I am jolted into action by the words ’50 years ‘. Half a century since I was walking the trails of Kora trying to get shots of Boy, Christian, Katania and George Three or four fascinating months, sometimes a little harrowing …
    I can still smell it and taste it, and I have a shot or two of you if you would care to give a number that works with Whatsapp.

    Best.. Kit

    • acebourke Says:

      So good to hear from you. Perhaps email me on acebourke@hotmail.com for a start. I’d love to read your book. I thought for the next annual blog – Christian’s birthday – we should mention your book, your feelings more than 50 years on, and post a few of your photographs? The year will come around quickly…Hope all is fine. ACE

  3. Avi GUPTA Says:

    Happy Birthday to CHRISTIAN. I love the way you celebrate his birthday by writing this blog and many more. Thinking about CHRISTIAN that how lucky you are that both of you were together and enjoyed the life. We have to be serious about climate change and Wildlife. It is important for us and our government to take necessary actions. Because of COVID at least mother earth got some time to breath which is a very good sign. Humans have to think about environment now.

    Regards
    Avi


  4. Happy Birthday Christian.
    I always look forward to your annual updates and as always enjoy reading your thoughtful and thought-provoking articles. Please continue to take care and stay safe.

    Best wishes from Japan,
    Takami

  5. Rick White Says:

    Great read Ace 😉 I sincerely hope you publish your London letters as apart from me being interested in reading them, I also think that it would be an important historical perspective not only from a personal point but also very relevant as part of your career, which is one that contributes to Sydney’s social, artistic and humanitarian history. Much luv Ricardo

    On Thu, Aug 12, 2021 at 10:12 AM Ace Bourke’s Blog wrote:

    > acebourke posted: ” HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN! 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 12t” >

  6. Brigitte Nealy Says:

    Happy Happy Late Birthday Christian❤️❤️

  7. Sally Davis Says:

    Great to hear from you again Ace, always enjoy your blog and usually think of you when talking about the wonderful Marea Gazzard. Best wishes for your move. Sally Davis

  8. minuialeth Says:

    Ace, we always love reading your news and thoughts and especially your memories of the most endearing and charismatic lion Christian. Thank you for rescuing him from Harrods and enabling him to live a natural lion life in Africa and for all that you do for wildlife.

    There’s a wonderful site (perhaps you know of it) where African wildlife can be experienced without actually being there… WildEarth TV streams on YouTube etc twice-daily 3 hour live safaris from the African wilderness. The expert guides are very knowledgeable. We get to observe and learn about the behaviours of many wild creatures… including leopards, cheetahs and lions in prides and coalitions. Over time people get to know individual animals very well… especially certain leopards and lions. The programmes have been very popular during the Covid lockdowns.

    Seeing the reunion video is always a very emotional experience and too Christian the Lion at World’s End.

    Best Wishes from Canada 🙂

  9. Barbara Sieruga Says:

    Happy Birthday Sweet Sweet Christian Thanks Ace for The Blog a Connection to a Amazing Story can’t help getting teary when I think of him really hope he lived a Long Life

  10. Maryanna Says:

    Hello Ace,

    Thank you for this wonderful blog. I look forward to Christian’s birthday every year. I pray every night that he found his happy place, his own territory and his own pride. I pray that he knows how much happiness he brought to the world, what a big impact he made on the world and that life is not the same without him. Thank for all of your other informative and fascinating stories. SO sorry to hear that Sony has dropped the ball on Christian’s movie.

  11. Hélène Says:

    It is always with great pleasure that I read your so interesting blog. Christian’s story is and will be in our memories and in our hearts for a long time. Happy Birthday dear Christian!! XX

  12. PACE Says:

    Such wonderful efforts

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

  13. Deva Delanoe Says:

    Thank you so much for the blog. Christian has touched so many people and I think of him as we continue to see the exploitation of big cats in petting zoos, canned hunting arenas and all the other places in which they don’t belong. Human beings are so very slow to learn. I am glad Christian was able to be free and I hope he lived a long and happy life. Is it known what happened to Christian’s sister?

    I also hope you will share your letters with the world some day.
    Wishing you all the best on Christian’s birthday,
    Deva

  14. Susan Jacups Says:

    hi Ace as always, I enjoyed your blog on Christians 50th!

    i have a book I would like to send you. it is called “the white lions of Timbavati” . it is from the late 1960s early 1970s, so you may feel connected with it more than you think!

    I picked it up from an Op-shop as I am naturally drawn to all things ‘lion’.. it is partly a thesis (it was a book derived from a Master’s thesis) but it has photographs and is quite personal and interesting.

    If you send me your PO box or address I will send it to you. I realise you are moving to (possibly) a small place in Sydney, so you needn’t store it, you are welcome to pass it on to someone else if you no longer want it… I would be happy for it to go to another home, albeit temporarily!

    let me know if you would like to read it

    best wishes! susan

    Susan Jacups susanjacups@gmail.com 0449924659

  15. susan jacups Says:

    Christian certainly lives on. I still have pictures of him on the fridge and in picture frames!

  16. Anna Parkinson Says:

    How lovely it is to see your reminding us of such an important event in your lives …and mine as I was in Kenya at that time and Virginia has kept me up-to-date too on all your news. Thank goodness we have such wonderful people like you, also remember that Tony and Lucy Fitzjohn are actually in Kora to renovate George’s camp for tourists to see where it all started. I also met you both in London at one of Virginia’s ‘events’ celebrating your times together – I show everyone your films and books too!! All the very best – thank you for the memory.. and your ‘events’ keeping us all informed.
    Anna Parkinson Brighton


  17. Great to see this!

    >

  18. E Tromans Says:

    Thank you Ace for the incredibly interesting blog. How can I forget Christians birthday as it’s also my late mother’s who would have been 108 today! Today I will show the story of Christian to my grandchildren aged 5 and 9. I’m sure they will be inspired by it and it will lead to many interesting chats and a school project I would guess about what they did in the holidays. Great it will be a fascinating activity for them and will be carried through the generations.

    We will never forget Christian and the reunion still moves me to tears after all these years. Best wishes

    Eileen in Cornwall, South west UK. We have lovely beaches here and cream teas, call in anytime! You’re welcome!

    Sent from my iPad

    >

  19. Sheri. Anderson Says:

    I like the cover in Chinese. What a great memory of Christian.

  20. Sheri. Anderson Says:

    Thank you for the update. Happy Birthday Christian.

  21. bodhiha Says:

    Happy birthday, Christian the beautiful lion, from Southern California! You have been gone a while, but as we know, what is essential is invisible to the eyes. Your story touched me and opened my world to conservation and animal rescue. Thank you, wherever you are.

  22. kenjohns1 Says:

    If you’re moving back to inner Sydney Darlinghurst, it is like a ghost town compared to the 1980’s 1990’s, very vacant and lifeless.

  23. kenjohns1 Says:

    Hi Ace, Christian was adorable, I’m living in Coogee beach Sydney, in an apartment over looking the water, so I can’t have a dog but on my balcony wild cockatoos come and eat, I place blocks of wild bird seed and they enjoy hanging about.

  24. Brenda May Says:

    Great to hear you are moving back to Sydney Ace, when the shitshow is more under control, let’s meet for coffee xx

  25. Rajat Mishra Says:

    Thank you Mr. Ace for providing so much info on your family, Christian’s life and your experience with him over the years. Christian was indeed unique in every aspect- his behaviour & attitude was better than most of humans! His 52nd birthday today, and it’s exactly 50 years now since he was last seen by anyone. Just due to his cheerful nature that he is still remembered so much today. You had witnessed him as an adult, independent lion which is enough to presume that he might have lived a normal lion’s life and made the best out of it. My best wishes to you.

  26. Barbara Lensing Says:

    Great blog, it touched on so many things we are all concerned about. I want to give my Happy Birthday Christian greetings to the memory of that beautiful lion. I too hope he lived a long happy life and there are still lions with his DNA all over Kenya. I would very much hope that you will turn your letters into a book. What an interesting story and another great legacy to you and Christian that would be. I would definitely buy one. Take care and I look forward to seeing another Christian blog same time next year.


  27. Fifty years! Amazing! Christian lives on in our memories. I’ve told you before, I’m sure, how it was reading about Christian’s life with you and then beyond, that encouraged me, confirmed in me, the determination to study Zoology (including Animal Behaviour) at university. With some Physics thrown in, enough to cross over with Pauli’s Exclusion Principle, that the act of observing something changes that which is being observed. Christian’s life with you undoubtedly changed what he would have otherwise become, but in the same way he also changed you. That is how it is.

    Thank you for continuing to share yourself, and Christian, with us. We will miss you around the village.

  28. Annie Kelly Says:

    Dear Ace, so pleased you are returning to Sydney as one day, when they let us fully vaccinated Australians back in, we might see more of you.
    Love Annie and Tim

  29. Mrs. Dean Walburn Says:

    Happy Birthday to Christian, our most beloved lion at his 50 year mark. What a legacy he has left us all, because of Ace and John persevering with their desire to give him the life he deserved in the wilds of Africa. Christian’s beautiful story continues to inspire many people… And what an amazing story it is!
    Thank you, Ace, for sharing so much information about yourself and Australia during your past and present years. You were very fortunate to find the niches which have been bringing joy and satisfaction to you during your career.

    It would also be interesting to hear how John Rendall is and what he has done for the past 50 years.

    My husband is a retired Ear, Nose,Throat physician, and he was working at St. Thomas’s Hospital in the Fall of 1969, – and we actually saw Christian and his sister at the Harrod’s Zoo one day. They were adorable and so very beautiful. It’s no wonder you and John were tempted to make the purchase!

    The Coronavirus has impacted lives in every corner of the globe. Everyone continues to be hopeful that life will return to some kind of normalcy very soon.We are just so tired of it.

    Blessings to you, Ace, John, and Christian. Thank you for sharing Christian’s touching and important story to the world.
    Mrs.Dean Walburn
    Tuscaloosa, Alabama USA

  30. Carolyn Says:

    Have not received anything from Ace for ages… But here we are on Christians Birthday… Thank you for
    Bringing Christian to us!
    HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN
    😘🦁🌹

  31. Matthew Says:

    Love your blog Ace. Recently I came across a picture of Christian sitting in the window of Sophistocat taken by someone walking by. Not sure if you have seen it before but here is the link. https://rbkclocalstudies.wordpress.com/tag/christian-the-lion/


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