Christian the Lion. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

Happy Birthday Christian!

I love celebrating this day and thinking about Christian and his life. I am looking forward to hearing from some of you today as I know many of you feel the same!

I love this photograph of Christian and I think it was one of the first taken by our friend Derek Cattani possibly in January 1970.  Christian was about 5 months old.

In London recently I enjoyed reminiscing with friends like Derek who were very close to Christian. We all agreed he was the most wonderful animal with the friendliest and most engaging nature, and he deserved his story to turn out so well. He faced a very uncertain future when he was for sale in Harrods department store in London (in late 1969), but he miraculously returned to Kenya in 1970, to George Adamson of Born Free fame.

George Adamson described Christian as surprisingly easy to rehabilitate into his natural life – after 5 generations in Europe.  Christian survived his first very vulnerable years and grew into a huge lion.  He was last seen in 1973 going off in the direction of Meru National Park where there was more game and possible respite from the wild lions that had made life difficult for him since he had arrived at George’s camp at Kora in Kenya.

One of the many lessons we learned from our experience with Christian was that while some see us as “saving” Christian – and we did have the best (if naive) intentions, we were unwittingly participating in and encouraging the trade in exotic animals. Harrods Zoo and the rather ghastly pet accessories shop that replaced it no longer exist I was pleased to see on my recent visit.

Our visit and reunion with Christian in Kenya one year later in 1971 unexpectedly became an internet phenomenon in 2008, and a new global audience of over 100 million people became aware of Christian’s story.  (See here for TadManly2’s original reunion clip on YouTube which he re-posted.  He was the person who added Whitney Houston singing I Will Always Love You which helped the clip become so popular).

Many of you would have celebrated World Lion Day just 2 days ago. In this time of global political and social disruption, it is hard for animals to be heard and we must double our efforts on their behalf. Congratulations to Four Paws animal welfare charity for facilitating the recent removal to Turkey of 3 lions, 2 tigers 2 hyenas and 2 Asian black bears from a zoo in Aleppo, Syria. Local zookeepers have bravely tried their best to keep as many animals as possible alive during a terrible 3 years of war that has forced so many of the population to flee.

Christian in his favourite spot in Sophistocat. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

In London I saw Jennifer Mary Taylor who was a co-owner of Sophistocat where Christian lived and where we worked. Over the years many people visited her antique furniture shop to talk about Christian, even when she relocated. She has helped keep the flame alive.

It was also very good to see Christian’s friend Unity again after so many years.  She is an actress (in Fellini’s Juliet of the Spirits for example) and had had a lioness in her apartment in Rome. She materialised very soon after we brought Christian home. They adored each other and she visited him nearly every day. She is quite small, and he could be boisterous and had sharp teeth and claws, so she often wore a coat for protection when she played with him. Sometimes I would hear her say…”You are too rough with me today I’m going to leave”. Christian would respond with contrite grunting noises.

I asked her why she had had such a good relationship with him. “I talked to him. We talked to each other”.

Christian and Unity in Dorking. Photograph by Derek Cattani.

Not many lions would allow themselves to play ‘wheelbarrows” but Christian had a great sense of fun and companionship.

In the subsequent years Unity has managed to find other exotic animals to meet and get to know, but Christian remains a favourite.

After the pleasure of knowing Christian, I sound a hypocrite advocating for people to not have contact with exotic animals, or keep them as pets.  However, people can get just as much pleasure and love from their dogs and cats –and looking after a lion, and the safety of all involved, was an awesome and scary responsibility.

MAIL: I’m so pleased that people continue to send stories into Christian’s website www.christianthelion.com.au. Joe recently wrote that when he was young he visited a house in the English countryside with “a lion in their tennis court”. “As years went by I thought that I had made it up because it seemed so unlikely”. Then a few years ago he saw Christian’s documentary and realised that it was true. His father was a chimney sweep, and can you believe, he is now the chimney sweep for Virginia McKenna at the same house where he saw Christian all those years ago!  As most of you know, Virginia McKenna  and Bill Travers played Joy and George Adamson in Born Free, and they were our introduction to George Adamson.

CHRISTINE TOWNEND: Christine’s memoir A Life for Animals was recently launched by Peter Singer in Melbourne. This was appropriate because Christine started Animal Liberation in Australia after reading Singer’s book in 1976, and then Animals Australia with Peter Singer in 1980. He wrote the Foreword to her book. Christine subsequently spent many years at Help in Suffering an animal shelter in Jaipur and is revered in India for her work for the welfare (and rights) of animals. She writes very insightfully (and modestly) about her 100% dedication and commitment to animals, her feelings about them, and her time in India.

A Life for Animals can be ordered here .

With help and support Christine and Jeremy Townend founded animal shelters in Darjeeling (DAS) and Kalimpong (KAS) in India. She runs them from Australia with the help of excellent and dedicated staff. See the Working For Animals website for more background information and the invaluable work of the shelters.  I am on the Committee and hope to be attending the AGM with Christine up in those beautiful mountains next October.

Michael Kirby, esteemed ex High Court Judge, launches Christine’s book A Life for Animals on the 25th August at Gleebooks, Glebe, Sydney. See details here.

DONALEA PATMAN: Congratulations to Donalea who has been awarded an OAM (Medal of the Order of Australia). She was instrumental in prohibiting the importation of lion trophies and animal parts into Australia – which was followed by a number of other countries. She is currently working on a campaign No Domestic Trade against the selling of the surprising amount of ivory and animal body parts in Australia. You can support and find more information about this campaign here.

Tiger in Ranthambore National Park 2016. Photograph Ace Bourke.

TIGERS: Tigers had their International Tiger Day on the 29th July, and these beautiful animals, like most wildlife, need our support more than ever.  I can still feel the excitement at seeing this tiger in the wild last year in India.
Tigers in India: There have been at least 67 unexplained deaths of tigers so far this year. While there are several reasons for their deaths, primarily it is the illegal trade in tiger body parts to China, Vietnam, Taiwan and Cambodia. Tiger populations had been increasing, but there are still only approximately 2,226 in India, representing 60% of the world’s population of 3890.

Tony the Tiger. Photograph sourced from change.org.

Tony the Tiger: See here for the latest news on Tony who is now 17 and not in good health. Tony has many supporters and the ADLF in the USA do their best in court case after court case to have Tony removed from the Truckstop in Louisiana to a better environment. The owner seems to just keep stalling with appeal after appeal, and somehow got “specifically exempted” from the 2005 Louisiana State law banning the private ownership of big cats. For Tony to be relocated to a reputable sanctuary please sign this petition here.

Kato in Symbio Wildlife Park. Photograph by Ace Bourke.

Kato the Tiger:  Like many of you, I have found the lack of progress for Tony the Tiger very depressing. I was reluctant to go to my local zoo to meet the tiger that I heard was there. I finally met Kato last week. He looked beautiful of course, but was listless. He is 15 years old and like Tony is half Bengal and Sumatran. He could live to 20. He had quite a large green space…but nothing to do. I pointed this out to a staff member who replied that as tigers are “solitary” this was OK. In the afternoons Kato goes back to no doubt a much smaller space behind the scenes, and is rotated with a brother and sister. She has been placed on contraception and these Sumatran young adults apparently get on well, although I would think in the wild they would have separated by now.

ZOOS: No matter how much more space animals and birds are given in zoos, or how attractively designed and landscaped, to me most wildlife in zoos seem resigned, depressed or anxious to escape. Zoos in the last few decades have had to deal with changing community attitudes to animal rights and welfare, and have had to emphasise and develop their serious and successful research, educational and conservation efforts. Kato’s zoo looked well maintained with many young staff. After going straight to Kato the tiger I, with others, gawked in wonderment at birds, cheetahs, kangaroos, snakes etc, and even farmyard animals seem exotic these days. I have to admit that people, especially children, were just fascinated. They are inheriting a world at a tipping point for wildlife and of species extinction. Will they be better educated and anymore effective than we have been on behalf of animals?

Despite the enjoyment animals provide, I don’t think they can be used for our entertainment at their expense.  Our relationships should be mutually enjoyable and beneficial.  We have our companion animals, we can watch many excellent wildlife documentaries, and these days many people can travel at least once to see the wildlife they are interested in.

I recently received a thoughtful email about issues to consider when donating to animal causes. Of course some support the work of zoos and some do not. Most animal shelters do a good and necessary job of looking after and rehousing animals in an urban setting. Some people only want to donate to a specific animal or project while others do not like donating to “administration” or boy’s toys.

I think conservancies are a very good idea where buying up and often fencing tracts of lands protects the wildlife.  Re-establishing traditional path ways and safe corridors, for elephants in India for example, is also proving very effective.

Peter Singer, a generous donor to animal causes, has a website listing the 2017 best charities working against global poverty.  He identifies outstanding charities “that will make sense to both your head and your heart”.

Love Story 1972 by Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri (1932 – 2002). Courtesy National Gallery of Australia.

ABORIGINES: Aboriginal artefacts and pigments excavated at a rock shelter in the Northern Territory are 65,000 years old. This has recently been verified by radiocarbon dating and Optically Stimulated Luminescence (OSL). Australian Aborigines are the world’s longest continuous living people and culture. Isn’t this amazing? They have survived invasion, colonisation, and mass dispossession.  They continue to endure marginalisation and discrimination when they should be respected and celebrated. Aboriginal art, for example, was described by Robert Hughes, the late art critic for Time magazine as “the last great art movement of the twentieth century”.

 
 

Cartoon by Moir in the Sydney Morning Herald

 

SCHADENFREUDE:  Yes, there is an element of this for many of us towards Rupert Murdoch.  I love Moir’s cartoons – he is one of our best.  Murdoch is the classic example of the 1% owning 40% of the wealth I blogged about last time – those 200 jobs were the first to be sacrificed at the News of the World.  Politicians do his bidding as we know – and I read he encouraged Blair to join the invasion of Iraq.  Hopefully his influence on them will now diminish.  The complicity of the police was particularly shocking, but then, not so surprising.  He owns 70% of the print media in Australia and unashamedly pushes his own right-wing agenda – virtually calling for regime change no less at the moment.  The Government or important issues are not given balanced coverage in his newspapers.  I could give you many examples but that would be boring.  There are some very good journalists working for The Australian, and they must often feel compromised.  Perhaps we readers are also complicit – Rupert’s touch has been identifying what his readers want – gossip.  John Dean, who spent 4 months in prison over his involvement in the Watergate cover-up years ago in the US, says that the scandal will keep running until Murdoch resigns – as President Nixon had to.  He quotes a source that says that money, not ideology, is Murdoch’s prime motivation.  See John Dean’s The Essay,  “Murdoch’s dilemma: himself” Sydney Morning Herald July 23-24.

 

Cartoon by Moir in the Sydney Morning Herald

 

We white Australians have only relatively recently begun to address our real history.  Respected historians such as Henry Reynolds have researched extensively and revealed for the first time the scale of the massacre of Aboriginal people as we took over their land.  The anthropologist W.E.H. Stanner called this in 1974 “the great Australian silence”.  Guess who campaigned in his newspapers seemingly daily for years through a very controversial “historian”, to dispute and minimise the numbers of Aboriginal deaths?  This is why I will never forgive Rupert Murdoch. Click here to sign the AVAAZ petition to end Murdoch’s media monopoly in Australia.

 

Drawing on Memory, Michele Elliot, 1992 (detail)

  

GLOBAL ANIMAL:  I was on a panel recently at this very interesting Global Animal conference at the University of Wollongong.  Human-animal relationships are a fast growing field in animal research, and I suppose Christian is a symbol of that!  In this academic environment I felt like the light relief.  Our YouTube reunion footage with Christian was shown and one participant expressed annoyance at the “disconcerting” Whitney Houston backtrack, and that the “greeting card” sentiments about forwarding the video to “someone you love”, detracted from the human-animal relationship.  I was a little taken aback as people are usually so pleasantly uncritical!  I said I personally get swept along with Whitney’s song “I’ll always love you” (actually written by Dolly Parton), and that I didn’t mind the footage being co-opted as a general message of love. But I acknowledged the point that was being made, and should have replied, “without Whitney and the viral “love” nature of the video, would it have reached so many people, and would I actually be sitting here?” Do see fellow panelist and artist Michele Elliot’s blog –michelelliot.blogspot.com. It is one of the most interesting and elegant ones I have seen. She is one of the growing number of artists who are interested in human-animal relationships. Click here to see her story behind the Tiger image.

 

The Gift, photograph by Michele Elliot 2009

 

CARBON TAX:  Pollution tax! I know I sound like a cracked record…but this saga rolls on here and is still Topic A, and it should be an issue in most countries.  Indeed in many countries the debate has moved on to solutions and the economic opportunities presented.  The Government’s policy was finally released and I respect the Sydney Morning Herald’s economist Ross Gitten’s assessment in his article Gillard’s imperfect carbon plan is just that little bit better.  The price for carbon emissions starts at $23 a tonne, the 500 major polluters will have some incentive to reduce emissions, households will be compensated, and there are billions of dollars for the development of renewable energy sources.  

I thought the tide was beginning to turn in the Government’s favour, although a recent poll gave them only 26% of the primary vote.  Luckily the election is 2 years away. This is the government that got us through the GFC better than any other country in the Western world, but who just can’t sell this achievement.  Today’s headline however was “Big Business has declared war on the Federal Government”.  Like the Republicans at the moment over the US debt ceiling, they seem to view all taxes as against the national interest and a form of wealth redistribution.

 However, a majority of economists back the Government’s economic policies and direction, and at a recent conference 79% backed the Government’s carbon tax over the Opposition’s faux Direct Action plan and 74% also backed the Government’s equally controversial Mining tax. The conservative Opposition just says “no” to everything, and with the support of the Murdoch press, ensure there is no considered debate about many important issues. Not surprisingly, consumer confidence is down.

 

Michael Leunig cartoon, in the Sydney Morning Herald

 

THE GREENS: We would have had a similar carbon emissions scheme by now if the Greens had not blocked the last one.  This is an example of why I have some reservations about them, and I have had mail about both my endorsement and my concerns. I think the Greens vary from country to country, although they obviously share many policies and philosophies.  As we have a hung parliament, and the Greens have the balance of power in the Senate (Upper House) they have considerable bargaining power.  There is now a formal alliance between the Greens and the Government, and they insisted Australia must price carbon, which has led to the PM being accused of breaking an election promise.  This is an on-going and serious credibility problem for her, and many people also dislike her for replacing Kevin Rudd as PM.

The Murdoch press hate the Greens needless to say.  For example, there was a recent article by Andrew McIntyre in The Australian on the commissioned book The Greens: Policies, Reality and Consequences .  He writes “In these (Green) policy formulations there appears to be a profound lack of appreciation or understanding of why our society is the way it is” and that their policies would have “catastrophic unintended consequences for this country”.  As Andrew McIntyre was the editor of the book, how could this be an objective review or article? 

COAL SEAM GAS:  there is rising opposition – on all sides of the political spectrum – to mining for coal seam gas which seems to be rapidly expanding everywhere from the suburbs of our cities to our prime agricultural land.  There seems to have been little research into how the chemicals or methods used are contaminating or damaging the water aquifers and the effect this will have on food production in our increasingly valuable “food bowls”.

CATTLE LIVE EXPORT:  this trade to Indonesia has resumed as suddenly as it was suspended, although no new export permits have yet been issued.  There are new animal welfare requirements, but this does not include stunning before slaughter.

MISC STATS:  South Sudan is the world’s 193rd nation and good luck to them although I don’t know what their economic base is… there is a substantial increase in the number and ferocity of natural disasters – 60 in 1975 and 321 in 2009 with 75 million people affected in 1980, and 250 million in 2007… the Queen cost $48.05 million for the year… 161,653,000 pounds was won by a couple ina lottery in the UK…Sydney is the 6th most expensive city in the world (after Tokyo, Oslo, Osaka/Kobe, Paris, Zurich)… 95% refugee applications in Australia are approved, and make up only 2.5% of our migrant intake.

 

Photograph by Glenn Campbell, Sydney Morning Herald

 

ABORIGINES:  They have been fighting many years for the repatriation of tens of thousands of aboriginal body parts from museums around the world that were ostensibly for “scientific purposes” but were mostly “trophies”. Most of these bones in the photograph were collected in 1948.  They have been in the Smithsonian Institution in the US who have resisted for a decade, like many others, their return.

Aboriginal elder Thomas Amagula said in 2009 “When I hear about the efforts and money the American government (like the Australian government) is spending trying to find and identify the remains of their soldiers who have been lost overseas, I wonder how the Smithsonian Institution can justify its refusal to return all the remains who were taken without our permission.  We think this is very arrogant”.  Aboriginal people are connected to the remains and spirits of their ancestors in ways non- Aboriginal people mostly don’t understand.  R.I.P.

 

Bangarra Dance Theatre at the Sydney Opera House until August 20, then touring nationally

 

Aborigines make up 3.5% of the Australian population, but 25% of the prison population.  But between 1994–2008 Aboriginal employment has risen from 31% to 51%.  School retention rates are increasing, as is home ownership.  There was a depressing program recently on the ABC featuring one of Australia’s richest men “negotiating” with a remote Aboriginal community to mine iron ore and which would spoil areas of their sacred and beautiful country. Billionaire Twiggy Forrest didn’t want to pay them too much as it would be bad for them! “Mining welfare”!!!   It showed the uneven playing field for aboriginal claimants, the inequity of the Native Title Act, and Twiggy has dangerously divided the Aboriginal community.  Another wealthy 1% person showing his largesse… see the ABC Four Corners program Iron and Dust.

HORN OF AFRICA:  It certainly looks like a horn which is ironic given the shrinking number of rhinos. More than 10 million people from southern Somalia are under threat by the lack of rainfall, failure of crops and the doubling of food prices.  The Dadaab Refugee camp in Kenya is expecting 10,000 new refugees each month.  It is now designated a “famine” and we can donate through:  savethechildren.org.au; UNHCR’s unrefugees.org.au:  Medicins Sans Frontieres msf.org.au or various other agencies.

In South Africa, although whites are only 9% of the population, they own 55% of the land.  With 50% of young black South Africans unemployed and very slow progress in people’s standard of living, it is not surprising, but scary, that leaders are emerging who are calling for the resumption of this land, without compensation, Mugabe-style.

WORRIED ABOUT:  the Bank of America’s share price… the US National Debt ceiling being $14.3 trillion and if it will be increased in time… the  strategy of the EU for the support of countries like Greece who according to one recent commentator “cooked the books” to gain entry originally…the secret sale by Germany of 200 tanks to Saudia Arabia despite their action against protesters in Bahrain, and the proposed new law to jail anyone criticizing the King…and Egypt not allowing international monitoring of their election later in the year.

MAIL:  Thanks for your emails… Fabienne is going to let us know more about the Bali Villa Kitty and how we may support the cats in Bali…WSPA emailed that generous donations have funded the first stage of the Bali Dogs Vaccination Program aimed at the eradication of rabies with 210,000 dogs in 4,126 villages treated… click here to watch this beautiful video about penguins sent by Hélène… I’ve been very interested in your own family histories and stories… and thanks Barb Heath for reading  back through my blogs and your comments… many of you are helping  the blog  become a good resource and directory of so many people and bodies genuinely concerned about animal welfare and the world we live in, and I thank you.

Our thoughts are with the people of Norway.

 

Michael Leunig cartoon, Sydney Morning Herald