High res Ace and Christian

Ace with Christian, 1972. Photograph courtesy GAWPT.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN

Christian was born on the 12th August 1969 in an unprepossessing and long closed down zoo in Ilfracombe, Devon, UK. Who could have imagined after five generations of captivity in Europe, he would be returned to Africa, and be successfully rehabilitated by George Adamson of Born Free fame?

For those unfamiliar with Christian’s story, see his website alioncalledchristian.com.au.

I am most often asked what happened to Christian. No-one knows. Christian was last seen by George Adamson in early 1973 when he was nearly four years old and was growing into one of the largest lions George had ever seen. He had survived the most dangerous years, although life as an adult lion would also always be very challenging. George thought he was looking for a territory of his own, away from the aggressive local lions of Kora. We like to think Christian created a pride of his own and lived at least the average 10 -12 years of lions in the wild.

Christian remains very popular and I continue to get many emails from nearly everywhere – often in waves from another round on Facebook, or as other countries discover him – like India more recently.

It was the posting on YouTube in 2008 of our reunion with Christian in Kenya in 1971 which brought Christian’s story back to a new and wider audience (100 million+ views), and our clip was recently listed as No. 5 on the top 20 to 1 Viral Sensations (Channel 9).

Sony bought the rights to our story in 2008. Given Christian’s enduring popularity, and the many relevant issues his life exemplifies, I am disappointed that many years have now gone by and sadly we are no closer to going into production. My feelings are exacerbated by the fact that there is such a crisis in wildlife, indeed we are at a tipping point for many species, not only lions, elephants and rhinos. Christian’s story could possibly make a contribution to generating more urgent action on behalf of animals in the hope of saving and protecting lives.

I’m relieved I’m not presently writing or commentating about the precarious state of the world which has unravelled even more dangerously than when I last blogged. We all deal with uncertainty and anxiety in different ways. I find it very relaxing living near the water, beside a National Park on the edge of Sydney.  I like to walk, garden, read, spend time with friends and family, listen to Radio National, spoil the cat, and even do some interesting work! Despite the criticisms – and the costs to Brazil and the local population, I’m loving watching the Olympic Games and am, so far, finding it life-affirming.

Leo DiCaprio GAWPT photo

Rhinos from Leonardo DiCaprio’s Facebook page. Photograph courtesy GAWPT.

GAWPT:  Leonardo DiCaprio is such a great advocate for the environment and through his Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation has recently donated US$15.6 million in grants – towards wildlife and habitat conservation, to aide indigenous rights, and to combat climate change and solve environmental issues. Visit his Facebook page here.

Included among the “grantees” in Africa are the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust (GAWPT)/ Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary, and the Elephant Crisis Fund (in partnership with Save the Elephant) – both very worthy recipients.

WFA: Working for Animals has a new website www.workingforanimals.org.au primarily about the WFA animal shelters in Darjeeling and Kalimpong in India. I am on the Committee of WFA and will contribute to News and Blog items from time to time. The founder, Christine Townend, is very well known internationally for her pioneering work in animal welfare and rights, and is well informed about the most pressing animal issues and debates world-wide.

We both hope to attend the upcoming Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) conference in Mumbai 21-23 October 2016. We spoke at the last FIAPO conference in Jaipur in 2014 and look forward to hearing wonderful and dedicated people talk about the successes and advances made in animal welfare in India, despite the many challenges.

WFA will continue to post information about various campaigns – and I remain especially concerned about canned hunting in Africa, and the continuing captivity of Tony the Tiger at the truck stop in Louisiana.

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Tiger in Ranthambore National Park 2016. Photograph Ace Bourke.

TIGERS:  I remain very excited about seeing tigers at close quarters in the Ranthambore National Park in India earlier in the year. On my return I watched several fascinating David Attenborough tiger documentaries, but as they were made several years ago, I hope the poaching and sale of tiger body parts and skins, and the flawed assessment of tiger numbers in the wild etc, are now more closely scrutinised and policed. Many issues conflate including the pressures of balancing sustainable tourism, competition for resources, the danger of wildlife to local villagers, and the expansion of wildlife corridors etc.

Officially, there are 2266 tigers approximately in India at present and 70% of the world’s tigers are in India. The most recent WWF survey states that 3890 tigers remain in the wild. I think seeing tigers up close reminded me of just how privileged I have been to know – and love – a big cat, and to be reminded of their magnificence, their power, and how they need us to fight – harder – for their survival.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

Happy Birthday Christian

August 12, 2015

Happy Birthday Christian. Photograph by Ace, 1972.

Christian at Kora Photograph by Ace, 1972.

Christian was born on the 12th August 1969 at Ilfracombe Zoo, in Devon, UK. His parents were Mary and Butch.  A few years ago we were told that Christian was actually hand-reared by one of the staff. This probably explains why Christian seemed so comfortable with us right from the start.

We are often asked how long do lions live?  I usually say 10-12 years but they can live longer in zoos.  Christian was last seen in 1973 and even at four years old was growing into one of the biggest lions George Adamson had ever seen.  He proved to be courageous and smart and survived the most dangerous years.  Ironically, George regarded Christian, the lion from London, as one of the most successful rehabilitations.

The murder of Cecil the lion by an American hunter in Zimbabwe continues to be condemned around the world.

Let’s ensure Cecil’s death was not in vain. There are several petitions in circulation relating to Cecil  –  the AVAAZ petition is to the EU and the USA authorities asking them to classify lions as an endangered species and to ban the import of any hunting trophies. This is probably the most effective way to stop these senseless deaths, and you may want to sign here.

The United Nations has recently passed a Resolution “Tackling the Illicit Trafficking in Wildlife”.

All of us must redouble our efforts to fight canned hunting, and Cecil’s death will add momentum to the campaign against the breeding of lions for hunting, and the importation of animal body parts and trophies. I ring travel agencies that advertise tours to Africa and ask airlines about their policies on these issues. All volunteers and travellers to Africa should look at this updated Volunteers in Africa Beware Facebook page to ensure they are supporting reputable wildlife sanctuaries.

Kevin Richardson and Ace Bourke Photograph by Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Kevin Richardson and Ace Bourke Photograph by Jeannette Lloyd Jones

Last Monday was World Lion Day and I cannot resist sharing last year’s message from Kevin Richardson and Tau the Interrupting Lion – who roared throughout! Watch the clip here.  I met Kevin when he was in Sydney recently and he posted this photograph of us on his Facebook page and there are of course wonderful photographs of lions on there too.

I am told our YouTube reunion with Christian in Kenya in 1971 is circulating on Facebook again and I am receiving emails, especially through the website, www.alioncalledchristian.com.au, from people just discovering Christian’s story.  For example, Monique has just emailed “And wasn’t Christian just the most remarkable being? He took everything in his stride and managed to bridge the animal and human worlds wonderfully”.

Many of you have let us know over the years the influence Christian’s story has had on you, and we of course will never know the full extent of his legacy.  I also recently received an email from a volunteer at Stichting Leew (Lion Foundation) in the Netherlands. I was thrilled to read that the owner was so inspired by Christian’s story and his successful rehabilitation that 3 years ago he opened his own big cat sanctuary to rescue animals from circuses, zoos etc. Their aim – see here – is to look after all animals that come to them, but to return purebred wild cats to the “semi-wild” where possible.  This is of course a very complex indeed contested issue.

Also based in Holland is AAP and I do know much more about their marvellous work with rescued animals, especially big cats, after meeting their representatives at the Animal Studies Conference in Delhi in January.

AAP are soon to officially open their Spanish branch, Primadomus, and the first occupants – 2 lions and 2 tigers rescued from a French circus wagon, are already in residence. See here.

George Adamson and Christian

George Adamson and Christian

GEORGE ADAMSON: The 20th of August is the anniversary of George Adamson’s murder at Kora in 1989. I love this photograph of George and Christian as it shows the love and familiarity of two good friends.  Christian looks so big I think the photograph must have been taken early in 1973 and is possibly the last photograph of him.  George, we thank you for your giant contribution to our understanding and protection of animals, and Christian…how can I express what you still mean to us and to so many others?

 OK, I confess, as it is his birthday I’ve just watched the Youtube reunion and sniffled through it as I did with Born Free last weekend.  HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN.

Happy Birthday Christian!

August 12, 2011

Christian, January 1970. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!  Christian was born in a small zoo in Ilfracombe, Devon, U.K. on the 12th August 1969. For some mysterious reason so many years later his story is still capturing people’s hearts and imaginations, and I get even more mail about him now describing the effect he has had on people’s lives.  His extraordinary personality and loving nature remain so fresh in my mind.  Memories are kept alive and revitalised by the superb photographic record which so easily conveys to others Christian’s magic.

We have been asked what we think the revival of interest in Christian means.  In an interview, 0ff the top of my head, I said I thought it was “a cry for Africa”  from Christian – perhaps a cry from an animal world under threat, and a world facing great challenges through climate change, water shortages and shrinking animal habitats etc.  There are 70% fewer lions in Africa since Christian’s time and through him we have been given the chance to talk about frightening statistics like this – happening to species everywhere.

Looking back, Christian seemed to have been  marked for a special destiny and we were all just stepping stones along his journey – back to Africa and his freedom no less, after 5 generations of captivity in Europe.  He has become a symbol of human-animal relationships, an ambassador for conservation and animal welfare, and a heart-warming story at a time when there is great economic uncertainty and people need cheering up.  I don’t entirely understand all the psychological aspects of the phenomenon  – perhaps I’m too close to it, but primarily it is about the reciprocated love for some humans that Christian felt, demonstrated, and remembered.

Christian's favourite spot on the stairs. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

Many emails or comments on the blog mention that we “rescued” Christian, or how sad we must have been to leave him.  We joke he was an “impulse buy”, and for me it was part adventure and fun, part pushing one’s luck, part rescue.  We thought we could look after him as well as anyone else at his young age, and we did.  More naively, we thought we could secure his future as well as anyone.  Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna were certainly “rescuing” him, from London, from a possible life in a zoo, and probably from us!  We did come to realise how by buying Christian we were participating in and perpetuating the trade in exotic animals, which became illegal in the U.K. in 1976.

With Christian growing too big for us to physically handle, it was a miracle that the opportunity to return him to Africa, to George Adamson, occurred.  So while leaving him there – three times – was very upsetting, this was absolutely the best solution – him taking his chance at a natural life, although it was very dangerous for him.  We thought we would be continuing to visit George and Christian.  While it was indeed a great adventure, a joy and a privilege, it had also been a huge responsibility and a 100% commitment to ensure everyone’s well being and safety.

Christian and Ace at Dorking 1970. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

DEREK CATTANI:  One major reason why Christian is still so vivid in my mind, and why Christian is loved so widely, is in addition to the two documentaries made about him at the time, his life in England and return to Africa was so beautifully photographed by well known London photographer Derek Cattani.

The media was interested in Christian, but invariably a photograph of a yawn would appear like a snarl, and we were very fortunate to meet Derek Cattani in January 1970 who became Christian’s friend and photographer.  Derek has had the most illustrious career, including photographing the Queen, PMs and Presidents, Nureyev and Elizabeth Taylor, sporting stars and historical moments at Olympic Games.  He has said however, that by awakening his concern for animals Christian “changed my life”.

I asked Derek would he choose a favourite photograph of Christian for this birthday blog.  He responded that it was too difficult – he loves them all!  He described how he just gradually got to know and be trusted by Christian by quietly and patiently spending time with him.  He began when Christian was 5 months old.  I have enjoyed looking at the photographs through Derek and Christian’s eyes and the lovely relationship that developed.  Christian is often looking directly at him, and not just out of curiosity.  Indeed, he always seemed “ready for my close up Mr. de Mille”!

Derek wrote “Christian had the most penetrating eyes I have ever experienced either animal or human.  It was as if he was looking beyond a space in time, an adventure yet to unfold, we would make eye contact and he would at times focus through me, as if to be watching the next episode of his life in Africa, which we were all to experience later on that year.”  This is why I particularly like the photograph at the top of this blog. It shows Christian’s all seeing, all knowing, enigmatic and beautiful eyes. It is also one of the earliest photographs of him – at five months old he is just about to leave his baby cub days behind, and beginning to grow into his big ears and paws.

I have always loved the photograph of Christian sitting on the stairs at Sophistocat. This was his favourite spot and we could get on with our jobs nearly forgetting he was sitting there, watching everything.

I have included the (bottom) photograph of the garden at the Moravian Close because of so many great memories. He loved playing there every afternoon and was completely safe, so we could also relax and enjoy it. He looks boyish, with his soccer ball at the ready, if punctured.  The “hug” photograph at Dorking has only been seen rarely and is showing its age after being pinned to my mother’s kitchen wall for many years.

KIMBA THE WHITE LION:  I have finally watched some episodes and I love Kimba!  I didn’t watch Kimba when I was growing up in the 1960s when it was the first animated television series made in Japan in colour.  I suspect it was very innovative animation, and I love some of the influences, like Japanese wood blocks.  Unlike much contemporary animation, Kimba is just so nice and conciliatory, yet firm.  Christian too was like a prince and although the centre of attention, he was very cooperative and friendly.  Kimba and Christian were both very smart. They both wanted to live in peace, make friends, “doing good, doing right”.  There are some uncanny narrative and visual overlaps – their returns to Africa, Kimba with Roger, Christian with us, Kimba in Paris, Christian in London etc.

Craig Andersen’s Kimba website which now has a lot more information about Christian, is where Lisa Williams first found Christian’s footage, and she posted it on YouTube.  Later TadManly2 added the Whitney Houston backtrack and edit which contributed to sending it viral.

Craig wrote to me last year (Late Feb 2010 blog) and told me that the creator Osama Tezuka wrote the story in 1950 to explore the idea of animals and humans living as one society.

“Ever since I first read Christian’s story back in 1972 I felt Christian had an important place in the world, as an “ambassador” from the animal world to the human world.”  It seems that Christian was the personification of the bridge between the animal and human world that the Japanese creator had envisaged with Kimba.  And it was on Kimba’s website that Christian was rediscovered in 2006 which lead to Christian’s story being told to new generations.

NEW WEBSITE:  To celebrate Christian’s birthday we have developed a new and more comprehensive website www.alioncalledchristian.com.au.  There are many Derek Cattani photographs of Christian, Christian’s story, information on books, films and TV appearances, recent news updates and interviews etc.  We’d love you to leave any comments about Christian – or tell us your own animal stories! You are contributing to Christian’s story still unfolding by your interest and we thank you.

But most importantly today, Happy Birthday Christian!  There is no way we could ever forget you or stop loving you.

Christian in the garden at the Moravian Close 1970. Photograph by Derek Cattani.