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 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

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”.

Morning Mist, Rock Island Bend, Franklin River by Peter Dombrovskis

TASMANIA: This historic photograph by Peter Dombrovskis (1945-1996) was taken in 1979 and was widely distributed in the early 1980s.  It played an influential role in generating public support for the environmental cause of successfully preventing  the damming of the Franklin River, and preserving some pristine Tasmanian forests. After a generation of conflict between timber loggers and environmentalists there has just been an historic agreement to protect high conservation value forests, and move to a sustainable industry based on plantation forests.  This agreement however still requires Federal government support (and financial investment) to succeed so please visit GetUp! Action for Australia and sign the petition for the Australian Native Forests Charter.

Peter Dombrovskis’ photographs are a good example of the power of photography for environmental causes.  See this link to an article about the effectiveness of photography in this context Sydney Morning Herald June 10, 2004.

“Timri”-Temaiku-Tarawa by Jon Lewis

RISING SEAS: Jon Lewis’s photographs in PORTRAITS FROM THE EDGE – Putting a Face to Climate Change have  similarly raised awareness, in this instance, to the dangers the rising seas are presenting to countries such as Kiribati and many other island communities, particularly in the Pacific Ocean.  Available to tour as an exhibition, these photographs are now available in a beautiful book.  Contact Momento – 1300 799 764 and see the images at

Towards Naa-North Tarawa by Jon Lewis


OCEANS: The first ever Census of Marine Life has been conducted over a decade and increases the number of known marine species to 250,000.  However, about 20% of the ocean has never been explored and at least 750,000 species remain undiscovered.  Scientists and researchers are hoping that the ocean is going to yield beneficial material and information, some of it, hopefully with huge medicinal potential.  

Crossota Norvegica by Kevin Raskoff


FRESH WATER: We are having two interesting and complex debates about water in Australia – portents for the future everywhere with water such a valuable resource.  In Queensland, the debate over the Wild Rivers legislation  involves State and Federal governments, conservationists, and differing Aboriginal points of view.  Noel Pearson for example, questions the limitation on indigenous economic opportunities through environmental protection, and has made accusations of theft of carbon credits by the governments.  For further reading on this complex issue see “The wild rivers swindle” – The Australian 9 October 2010.  Unfortunately, please bear in mind this is a Rupert Murdoch publication, and despite some very good journalists, there is increasing and widespread criticism of their partisan and anti-government coverage.

RIVERS: The Murray and Darling Rivers are in very bad condition through years of drought and an over allocation of water through irrigation.  Much of Australia’s food is produced here, but do we really need to be growing water hungry crops like rice in quite arid areas?  If the water allocation is cut – or rationalised, several river communities will undoubtedly be hard hit economically, and they have been very vocal in their opposition.  But as the rivers under present conditions are unsustainable, major changes and readjustments are going to have to be made anyway.  In Australia we have not really accepted that we live in a mainly arid land with poor soil, and with our low rain fall are always going to be vulnerable to drought.

I’ve often wondered about urban water catchment and the waste of all that water.  Monash University is looking at alternative water systems and there is an online survey in partnership with the CSIRO on the risks of storm water harvesting.  To participate in the survey click here.


Mari Nawi - Aboriginal Odysseys

MARI NAWI: Years ago I was fortunate enough to meet a brilliant researcher and historian Keith Vincent Smith.  I was astounded that he could identify many of the Indigenous people in the early colonial prints, that the wider public – like myself, thought were “anonymous” subjects.  Subsequently, based on Keith’s research, in 2006 we co-curated an exhibition EORA, Mapping Aboriginal Sydney 1770-1850 at the Mitchell Library, identifying many of the Sydney Aborigines.  Keith is now staging another exhibition there, MARI NAWI Aboriginal Odysseys, which illustrates through colonial material including journals and prints, a sea-faring Aboriginal diaspora around the world – from London to the Californian gold fields.  This again, is a previously unknown history of Australia.  To view images of the exhibition click here

The MARI NAWI Aboriginal Odysseys book is available in bookshops, and the State Library, and is published by Rosenberg Publishing.

CONSERVANCY: Colonial or victorious powers in many instances have arrogantly created many artificial national borders for people and wildlife, so it is no wonder we have the Israel-Palestine conflict, for example, tribal and religious tensions in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, and human/animal conflict.  I think we should support trans- frontier conservancy for animals aimed at preserving where possible traditional and seasonal migration routes , and interconnecting tracts of land.  But firstly, we have to try to stop the destruction of any more habitats.

CHINA: We have been witnessing a powerful China emerging on the world stage, but the reaction in China to the jailed writer and democracy activist Liu Xiaobo winning the Nobel Peace Prize was predictably shrill, uncool, and just gave more “oxygen” to the issue.  Didn’t the Chinese Premier himself recently say “the people’s wishes for and needs for democracy and freedom are irresistible”?

Visiting China was a highlight for me last year, and as I have said, China’s thinking and action about the conflicting pressures of such rapid economic development on conservation and wildlife issues is more advanced than I thought.  The European Union, the UK, US and China, unlike Australia, have put a price on carbon, and China is at the forefront of a low carbon industrial revolution.

There has been a doubling of poaching for rhino horns in South Africa for the Asian market in the last year.  The use of animal body parts for traditional medicines is endangering some species of animals, such as the tiger.  I have the impression questioning traditional medicines would be taboo, but in Asia and China especially it is an overdue debate that has to happen.

READING: I initially found Jonathan Frantzen’s Freedom very funny, but I became depressed (about human behaviour) the more immersed I got, although it was still irresistible reading.  It had an environmental context or back drop, complete with contradictions, hypocrisies and redemptions.  One character is very anti cat – and Frantzen was amusingly awful about them, which I normally wouldn’t approve of.  It did however, make me feel guilty about occasionally not always having my cats in at night…but I can’t always find them! 

TONY THE TIGER UPDATE: Please view the latest campaign video for Free Tony The Tiger by Big Cat Rescue.  For further information and to view a new comprehensive site for Tony click here .  Please sign the petition or circulate!

White Lions at the National Zoo & Aquarium, Canberra. Photograph by Gary Ramage

GEORGE ADAMSON: Thank you to Michelle Johnson for kindly sending this link to a beautiful montaged tribute to George Adamson and his lions, by Mayra Bell.  Click here to see photographs of Elsa, Boy and Christian and marvelous photographs of the camp at Kora.  Enjoy!