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!

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Late February 2010

March 12, 2010

I admit to being obsessed with my two cats – and in our busy and stressed lives we are seeking an emotional closeness with them, and probably building up an unhealthy reliance on them! That’s why I got two – a brother and sister, so I could spread the intensity of my feelings for them over two, and they are company for each other. No doubt one of the factors our reunion clip with Christian was so popular was people identifying with their own pets. Our love of animals, gardening, and bush walking, are all symptomatic of our increased alienation over several centuries from nature, which is having severe psychological effects.

One of the books I have recently read which I found fascinating (it was published in 1995!) was Ecopyschology Restoring the Earth Healing the Mind edited by Roszak, Gomes and Kanner (Sierra Club Books), which in a series of essays discusses our alienation from nature and the effects, and how replacement past times – like consumerism and materialism, is proving empty and unsatisfying. What will be the effect on the young generation of all their sedentary time on the internet, being constantly plugged in, and their incessant communicating? They could act and communicate globally very effectively on causes they believe in – whatever they may be. The recent death of the trainer at Sea World, Orlando by the killer whale, is also a reminder of the dangers of unnatural situations and encounters. We are understandably fascinated by nature, but it is not there for our entertainment. The woman who was attacked last year in the USA by her friend’s chimpanzee was also an unfortunate reminder about the dangers of owning exotic pets, and we were very anxious not to encourage this practice. We came to realise we had unwittingly participated in the trafficking of exotic animals by buying Christian, and welcomed the Endangered Preservation Act in 1973. I know it sounds hypocritical, after we had had such an experience with Christian!

People can adopt and look after animals that need a good home from local animal pounds and shelters. These cats and dogs provide the same unconditional love (alright, there is an element of “cupboard love”!), without the attendant attention or danger. Apparently these places are very overcrowded, and March and April are particularly bad months when people tire of the responsibilities of owning a pet – possibly a Christmas present, or the novelty has worn off. Many of these animals are “put down” which is heart breaking. Rescue one now!

Last year we returned for an interview to Harrod’s department store where we bought Christian. It was a relief that there were actually very few animals for sale, but it is now the most pretentious pet “boutique” and I was appalled by all the very expensive pet accessories – bejeweled collars, toys etc, and I felt the money could be much better spent on supporting animal causes or better food. Best of all is just spending time with your pets, and not treating them like an accessory. 

The most gruesome video I have been sent was the slaughter of Pilot whales in the Faroe Islands off Denmark, a traditional annual blood bath condoned by the community (see “Faroe Islands slaughter” on YouTube), and similar to the slaughter of dolphins in Taiji in Japan, as seen in the Oscar winning film The Cove. There is a campaign against this – http://www.savejapandolphins.org/. While we should join this campaign, it would be hypocritical of Australians as there is more activism in Europe against the slaughter of our kangaroos than there is here in Australia, and each year we transport about 4 million sheep to the Middle East under the most unsatisfactory and cruel conditions.In Australia there is currently a debate about biodiversity, with the Federal Government planning to change focus to protecting “eco-systems” rather than funding individual projects for endangered animals. People such as Professor Tim Flannery are appalled and argue that as we are in an acute “biodiversity crisis” and the protection of single species is essential to prevent entire eco-systems collapsing. Everything has its role to play. Recently, some Yellow Spotted Bell Frogs, presumed extinct, have been located. Up to seven frog species appeared to disappear after a fungus from South Africa entered Australia in the 1970s. 

Last year I spoke at a very interesting and comprehensive conference called Minding Animals 2009 where many very dedicated academics, researchers and experts (including Peter Singer) addressed many fascinating aspects of animals, and their welfare and rights. Many of you may be interested to read some of the papers and planned publications, and follow future events on http://www.mindinganimals.com/.

Terrence and George, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine

Terence and George, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine

Tony Fitzjohn with lions, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine

Tony Fitzjohn with lions, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine

Tana River, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine.

Tana River, Kora 1977. Photo by Dr Margaret Bassendine.

I recently was in contact with Tony Fitzjohn, Field Director of the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust (“GAWPT”). He has just completed writing a book which I look forward to reading, as he is yet another larger than life personality deeply involved in wildlife conservation. The plans to “rehabilitate” George’s camp at Kora are progressing. The old camp is now again operational, but roads have to be cleared etc. Projects with the nearest villages continue with an emphasis on clean pumped water, health and education. Reading between the lines, I think he would appreciate any financial help any of us can give him. Check his website to see the extent of all of the work GAWPT do at http://www.wildlifenow.com/. Interestingly, I recently met Dr. Margaret Bassendine who visited George Adamson’s camp at Kora in 1977, and a selection of her photographs can be seen on www.stephenoxenbury.com/Maggie/.

We were fortunate last year to meet Lisa Williams who first put the clip on YouTube of our reunion in Africa in 1971. She is an arts student in Los Angeles. Interested in animation, she first saw our footage on one of the many sites for Kimba the white lion, a 1965 animated film which obviously has a huge cult following see www.kimbawlion.com/christian.  

Kimba the White Lion

Kimba the White Lion

Our footage was edited alongside Kimba’s story – the parallels (and even images) were extraordinary – returning to the wild, a bridge between the human and the animal worlds etc. Lisa posted it on YouTube because she thought our footage was unique, but it wasn’t until a few months later that someone else added as a back track Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You, and the song added perfectly to the emotion of the moment, and the hits really began gathering momentum, especially after being shown on the Ellen DeGeneres show. We stopped counting at about 60 million hits because at this point the sites with Whitney’s song were then pulled off YouTube – possibly because of copyright issues, and it has been impossible to establish the total number of hits. I joke we resuscitated her career, although her recent performances in Australia have had very bad reviews!  As all this was even before we were to travel to launch and promote the release of the book in the US, the UK and China, appearing on many television shows including Oprah, I think it is safe to say, as a magazine recently stated, the reunion footage has been seen by at least 100 million people.