George Adamson and Christian

George Adamson and Christian (c. late 1972- early 1973)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN!

During the last world crisis, the Global Financial Crisis, Christian’s “reunion” footage with us in Kenya on YouTube was a soothing and positive diversion, and this helped to make it so popular. I have been getting emails recently with people saying they have been watching Christian’s story as a distraction, or to make them feel better in “lockdown”. It amazes me that Christian still casts this spell over so many of us.

See here should you want to watch the version of our reunion with Christian with Whitney Houston’s song, as it gets harder to find on YouTube, and needless to say, it is my favourite version.

Many of you no doubt celebrated World Lion Day on August 10th, and International Tiger Day on the 29th July.

LIONS: We all remain concerned with the crisis in lion and wildlife populations. I am presuming “canned hunting” is not thriving with the widespread COVID-19 virus in South Africa, but at a time like this the owners of the numerous “lion farms” that have profited from this dreadful practice may start to maltreat the animals including not feeding them properly or looking after them. Even worse, the current situation may encourage the participation in the illegal trade in lion body parts. The human population in South Africa, with widespread unemployment, is also faring very badly.

Image source: Allen & Unwin

While I have as yet only read an extract, there is a new book The Last Lions in Africa: Stories from the frontline in the battle to save a species by Anthony Ham. He is, to my surprise, an Australian.

The author states that as of 2019, there are approximately 22,509 lions left on the African continent. At the end of the C19 there were 200,000. They have disappeared from 95% of their historical ranges, and from 26 countries. By now we know most of the reasons, primarily, destruction of habitats, hunting and human and animal conflict. The author also notes that there are approximately only 4,000 tigers left in the wild, and 1,000 mountain gorillas.

Depressingly, in my blog after blog over the years, we have been watching these figures diminish despite many organisations and individuals doing good work. Rather like action, (or inaction) on climate change, nothing seems to be reversing the “extinction vortex” we are witnessing.

These giraffes from the Mogo Wildlife Park, NSW, nearly died in the bushfires and have now welcomed a new born calf

BUSHFIRES:  In Australia we had a horrific fire season with 10 million hectares of the east coast burnt, which was news around the world. We were all in shock at the scope, the intensity, and that the fires were described as “unstoppable”. I live surrounded by a National Park which was very dry, but we were lucky this time. The smoke and air quality from the fires was a danger to health over vast areas. I put my art collection in storage, and like many others, had a suitcase and the cat box by the door for months on end.

Quite a few people lost their lives, including fire fighters, and many lost their houses and businesses. Many animals died – they estimated a billion at the time, but that has just been updated to 3 billion dead or displaced. This does not include the cattle and sheep lost. Despite the early start to the fire season and the incredible ferocity of the fires, despite all intelligent people and fire experts pointing to climate change as a factor, our conservative government said “now was not the time” to talk about such things. Now we are heading towards the next season as ill prepared as we were last year. We continue not just to ignore the experts but also indigenous fire practices honed over centuries.

As many as 5,000 koalas lost their lives during the fires, and their habitats destroyed.  There is even talk of extinction. Our NSW Government has stated it wants to double koala populations by 2050, but this government has not stopped land clearing and habitat destruction, which like creeping urbanization, are the major threat to koalas, along with bush fires, disease, dogs and feral animals. The government fully supports mining, even allowing mining that threatens Sydney’s water supply.

Australia has the worst record in the world in relation to the extinction of mammals – 30 species lost since colonization (1788), and 14 in the past 50 years.

COVID-19: Who would have thought how much the world would have changed since Christian’s last birthday? We have all been overtaken by COVID-19 and I hope all of you and your families are managing. Everyone has been affected in some way. Australia had coped quite well up until recently, although due to some inexcusable quarantine carelessness, we now seem to be having a dangerous “second wave” in Victoria, and some outbreaks in my state of NSW. Luckily as an island continent we can close our borders, although our state borders are more porous. The lucrative international tourism industry and the international student sector, have been decimated.

Interestingly, the Federal Government has responded quite well and suddenly and unusually, listened to medical experts and scientists – unlike their ongoing climate change denial. The government is now getting very worried about the economy and is anxious to reopen everything and for it to be business as usual. They have been forced to embrace spending and borrowing billions of dollars after criticizing the Opposition for years, although it was the ALP who were then in government and successfully navigated us out of the Global Financial Crisis.  Our economy and jobs growth have not been strong for years, and as yet there are no proposals or ideas for job creation or economic stimulation. The Treasurer even referenced Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan as his models for economic recovery which is rather indicative of the government’s outdated ideological mindset.

The arts and entertainment industry here has also been decimated and given very little support, and none of it as yet has been forthcoming. Galleries and museums are tentatively reopening. Under the cover of “Covid”, funding to our national broadcaster the ABC, universities (especially “the Humanities”), the public sector and the arts, all imagined enemies of this government, will be minimized.

People around the world have appreciated surprisingly clear skies and clean water. Now would be an ideal time to have a new low carbon and green approach to the economy, and transition to renewables. In Australia we still don’t have an energy policy that business can invest in, and the government remains fixated on coal and gas. Now is also the chance to review: overdue taxation reform; much needed public housing policy; aged care; wage growth and the casualization of labour; and to consider free universal childcare, and the vital role of women (and migrants) in the health and service industries.

I’m glad I don’t live in Sweden where my age group seems to have just been sacrificed for the greater good, although their economy, and the number of deaths, does not indicate that this approach has been successful. I have been very worried about friends in the UK, the USA and Brazil. Trump and Bolsonaro have both been criminally negligent. I am also very worried about friends in India, and especially Rajat, a very intelligent and dedicated young fan of Christian’s who is battling a serious disease I’m sure he will overcome, and my thoughts are with him and his family.

Over the last year, the leaders of America, Russia and China have shown their true colours, and there has been a dangerous unravelling of the old world order. Cyber surveillance and warfare is the norm and it is difficult to ascertain the truth with the claims of “fake news” and the widespread conspiracy theories. In the USA I have no confidence in Biden, but removing Trump would do the world a service. My prayers for the future of the Uyghurs and Hong Kong, and for the citizens of Beirut.

Congratulations to the few countries like New Zealand, Taiwan and Vietnam that acted quickly and effectively against the virus. In Vietnam they have banned the trading in wild animals and their body parts which is good, although some are allowed for “medicinal purposes”. Wild life products do seem to be incubators of disease.

So take care, wear a mask, wash your hands and social distance.

The ice keeps melting…. Photograph by Michael Ginzburg for PBS.org

We listen to scientists and medical experts with the epidemic – why don’t we listen to climate change scientists and their predictions?

SELF-ISOLATION: How have you all managed in self-isolation? People initially seem to have found it frustrating but also quite interesting. Most have enjoyed more time with the family, although “home schooling” has been a challenge for many. With so many working from home, and Zoom, this may change work habits and paradigms. Musicians have made music in their bedrooms, and artists and galleries have been imaginative about art online. Cooking, eating, gardening and DIY home renovations seem to have been popular.

Many people binge watched Tiger King: Murder, Mayhem and Madness on Netflix but I resisted, although I did later see a documentary on these unsavoury people, messing with such beautiful animals. There are more big cats in private hands in the USA than are left in the wild. There is no conservation value as their breeding practices are indiscriminate. What is going to happen to the animals if these zoos are closed down, and the owners in jail?

Many of us have been supported at this time by our companion animals, who have had to adjust to us being home much more! Initially there were many more adoptions from animal shelters which was encouraging and understandable. I do wish even more people would adopt these animals, at risk of euthanasia, rather than buying expensive hybrid dogs like Cavoodles, Groodles and Moodles. I have noticed that Dachshunds have become very popular. My cat has been a great source of comfort even if she has manoeuvred/manipulated me into now being fed on demand, and I now realise she can sleep 23 hours a day.

I have got some overdue writing projects actually finished or well advanced, and have read some very good books. I have found classical music very soothing. Luckily Bundeena where I live is very beautiful and this winter quite mild so I walk every day. I have always felt in quarantine here!

“Misunderstanding” by Tony Albert. Courtesy Sullivan +Strumpf.

BLM: Aboriginal people in Australia have been protesting in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in the USA and across the world, and of course they have much to relate to. As in America, there has been a growing section of the white population that also agree that enough is enough. Aborigines have a shocking incarceration rate, and there have been many Aboriginal deaths in custody, with no-one EVER bought to account.

White people have increasingly had to face our privilege in the last few years, and acknowledge the results of dispossession of indigenous people by colonisation. We also have to realise the amount of “casual” racism that exists, let alone the overt racism people of colour deal with on a daily basis. Enough IS enough!

Recently, the mining company Rio Tinto blew up two caves in the Juukan Gorge in Western Australia that were sacred to Aboriginal people. Artefacts dated to 46,000 years had been found there, so the caves were one of Australia’s most significant archaeological sites. The company said it was a “misunderstanding” – hence why one of our best Aboriginal artists Tony Albert called his artwork “Misunderstanding”. Google him to see more of his wonderful work. The nation was very shocked – briefly.

WORKING FOR ANIMALS: Our thoughts are with our WFA staff in India where the virus is particularly severe. The best news however is that the new cattery at the Kalimpong Animal Shelter (KAS) is now being built and finally cats will have the necessary space that they require. We are particularly grateful to Laura Louie and Harry Bohm who very generously donated money to purchase the additional land and build the cattery. I am very much hoping I can visit when travel is permitted again.

Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson’s new book

BOOK: Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson has a new book Lost Companions, Reflections on the Death of Pets. This is possibly his 13th book, and dogs have been his speciality. Many of us have had the trauma of dealing with the death of loved pets, and Jeffrey recounts various stories about our special bonds with animals and the different ways people deal with their grief. I always regret that it is not possible to express our last words, explanations, or our thanks to them for all they have meant to us.

Jeffrey mentions Christian, as an example of interspecies relationships. Of course we don’t know what happened to Christian which I am quite relieved about. That is one death and trauma we didn’t have to face. About our reunion with Christian, Jeffrey, who is a friend of mine, says about me “I understand why this single encounter has stamped his life forever”. I think it has but I’m not sure how! While I was not surprised Christian remembered us, I may have been surprised at just how exuberant he was. Jeffrey noted what I also found extraordinary, that Christian’s “pride” who were not familiar with humans, milled around us, caught up in and sharing Christian’s excitement. He was loved by lions and humans alike.

MOROCCO: I was very fortunate to have a great trip to Morocco, Paris and London late last year, as international travel for us all is unlikely for the foreseeable future. There were cats and kittens everywhere in Morocco – no doubt too many, but I was pleased to see they were treated well.

In Fez I visited the American Fondouk, which was established in 1927 by an American woman to offer free veterinary care for “four legged” animals – mules, horses and donkeys. If these animals get injured, the families often have no other source of income. American Fondouk (hotel) is very well resourced with the latest equipment – for weighing and moving heavy animals, an operating theatre, and a test laboratory etc etc. The staff and volunteers were very welcoming to me – as they are to anyone who would like to visit and see their work. The founder’s family continue to support the Fondouk, but extra donations are always appreciated.

Speaking to the two young vets who showed me around, I said I had been lucky enough when I was younger to meet and know Joy and George Adamson. To my surprise, they had never heard of Elsa the lioness, the Adamsons, or Born Free. They said “we only know about those two young Australians who took their lion from London back to Africa”. They seemed to believe that I was one of them!

I was very shocked that generations now may not know Elsa’s extraordinary story, and the film and book Born Free that affected millions of people all over the world in the 1960s. Although I didn’t read the book at the time, I was very aware of the story. We were fascinated by Elsa’s affectionate relationship with the Adamsons and her successful rehabilitation back into the wild. It was almost unimaginable. Like David Attenborough who had begun making his documentaries, the spotlight was put on wildlife, and the affirmation that, like us, all animals, including “wild” animals, were sentient beings. I finally read Born Free a few years ago, and Elsa, like Christian, was an exceptionally intelligent animal. The Adamsons could take her on holidays, and she would just jump into the back of their vehicle. Joy Adamson was a very creative woman, and the photographs in the book were wonderful.  I have seen the film more recently at fund raising events, and it remains amazingly fresh, and a feast for lovers of lions.

I can’t really completely explain or understand why Christian’s story still has such resonance so many years later. He was very charismatic, attractive, and full of personality.  His life was very well documented, and years later, he has had the benefit of the social media age and YouTube.  He demonstrated an obvious capacity for love. He too was successfully rehabilitated, and we can presume a happy ending. For some people our story also represents a more adventurous and less regulated era …… what do you think?

I would love you to Leave a Comment on your thoughts on what Christian and his story (or Elsa and Born Free) has meant to you!

HAPPY BIRTHDAY CHRISTIAN we are all still thinking of you, especially today.

Christian photograph by Ace Bourke 1972

Christian photographed by Ace Bourke 1972

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”.

Übers Wasser laufender Basilisk by Stephen Dalton. Winner of the Fritz Steiniger Prize.

 Basilisk by Stephen Dalton. Winner of the Fritz Steiniger Prize.

Stephen Dalton has won the Fritz Steiniger Prize for his contribution to high speed photography for this photograph of a basilisk or Jesus Christ lizard running across water. I believe this  had never been photographed before.

The Nikon Small World Photomicrography competition was won by Australian Ralph Claus Grimm and see here for his photograph of a honey bee’s eye covered in dandelion pollen and magnified 120x.

These prizes are yet more examples of the many competitions for photography enthusiasts these days.

Elsa the lioness with Joy Adamson

Elsa the lioness with Joy Adamson

LIONS: Do watch this video of Will the Lion released from a Brazilian circus after 13 years by Rancho do Gnomos and his first reaction to more freedom, and the soil and grass. Have a hankie ready.

We want Tony the Tiger (and all caged animals) to experience this as well, so we must try even harder for the release of Tony from a cage at a truck stop in Louisiana, USA, to a sanctuary. Please sign the petition here if you have not already.

The tireless Donalea Patman, founder of For the Love of Wildlife, and Federal MP Jason Wood have both been honoured by the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) for their commitment to lion conservation. Their great achievement has been the introduction of legislation prohibiting the importation of lion trophies and body parts into Australia. France has just followed suit!  Donalea said “I do it because I believe Africa’s wildlife is under siege”.

Other news is that the president of the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA), who has viewed the documentary Blood Lions, acknowledges how the campaign against the breeding of lions for “canned” hunting is making the PHASA position “untenable”. He points out that with some airlines and shipping companies refusing to transport hunting trophies, PHASA has to realise that this issue is putting at risk “not only the reputation of professional hunting in South Africa but its very survival”. He also noted “broader society is no longer neutral on this question, and the tide of public opinion is turning”. At their just held AGM, PHASA voted that they could no longer support lion breeding and lion hunting.

Congratulations to Donalea and Jason, CACH, the makers of Blood Lions and everyone that is campaigning against canned hunting.  We should all be very encouraged to keep up our opposition.

Elsa's Kopje overlooking Meru, George's old camp and Elsa's old territory

Elsa’s territory in Meru National Park the site of  Elsa’s Kopje and George Adamson’s old camp

Aidan Basnett has organised another tour to Africa next year, the Adamson Experience Tour 2016. Apart from experiencing the beauty of Africa at Maasai Mara, Meru and Shaba National Parks, other highlights of the tour include visits to what are now almost regarded as Adamson and Elsa “sacred sites” including Elsamere (where we met Joy Adamson) and Elsa’s Kopje. Email Geoff@yellowzebrasafaris for the itinerary and more tour details. See here for Aidan’s George Adamson Legacy Australia Facebook page.

Killer Whale

Killer Whale

It is encouraging that SeaWorld in the USA will stop the killer whale shows at its San Diego park by 2017, and they promise the new killer whale attraction will have “a strong conservation message”! The reality is that more and more people are finding cruelty to animals unacceptable, and SeaWorld’s share prices and attendances have both been falling.

It is very encouraging that the US National Institute of Health quietly ended the Federal Government’s use of chimpanzees for biomedical research.

Pigeons in front of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India

Pigeons in front of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India

ART: Sylvia Ross photographs and loves pigeons and I have used my own photograph here of pigeons in front of the Taj Hotel in Mumbai, India. Sylvia has curated an exhibition called The Bird Show at SPOT81 (81 Abercrombie Street Chippendale, Sydney) until this Sunday, 29 November.  More details about the show here.

WORLD: I listed many of my geo-political anxieties last blog…and I did have a sense of foreboding, especially the more I learnt about the apocalyptic nature of ISIL, and how good they are proving to be at creating fear and dividing populations.  However, like most people, I was deeply shocked by the Paris bombs and horrific loss of life.  The event raises so many questions:  Why did the bombings in Beirut with 42 deaths, and over 100 dead in a “peace” march in Ankara, Turkey, receive so little attention in comparison? Why are we ignoring the fact that many more Muslims are being killed by ISIL, let alone the millions displaced? Why has France (and Belgium) failed so completely over decades to “integrate” their Muslim populations?  How should moderate Islamists respond to the fundamentalists, and how will Islam reconcile with modernity?  Are the West responding (in this case with the retaliatory bombing  of Raqqa in northern Syria) just how ISIL has strategised, and is this boosting recruitment?  What are the causes of radicalisation?  What are the real agendas of countries like Saudi Arabia who have a record of supporting terrorist organisations?

The complexities and competing agendas in the region have been illustrated by the shooting down of the Russian jet by Turkey who are probably more concerned about the Kurds than ISIL, and the Russians who have been attacking Turkmen villages and are more interested in supporting Assad.

In Australia the Grand Mufti has been criticised for saying in a statement that the violence was “provoked by discontent at racism, Islamophobia, security laws,and foreign policy decisions” and I think this is a legitimate comment. We are experiencing the inevitable reaction here from racists and xenophobes that can only further alienate our own Muslim fellow Australians. The responses of Trump and Ben Carson in the USA was appalling.

Are Bush, Blair and our own ex-PM Howard ever going to be held accountable for the chaos in the Middle East that resulted from the invasion of Iraq  in 2003 that has given rise to ISIL?  Other more historic causes include the artificial creation of “countries” by colonial powers oblivious to tribal and sectarian differences, and Western support for appalling dictators when it suited them, especially in the pursuit of oil.

See Australia’s Waleed Aly’s informative and indeed refreshing article The fight that goes around in circles in the SMH on the Middle East conflict here.  IS is the “Middle East’s illegitimate child: a byproduct of the power vacuums of a broken region”.

White peacocks in Bayview by Tim Berriman

White peacocks in Tim’s garden in Bayview, Sydney

Our own PM has been attending various meetings with world leaders and he seemed to have struck an immediate rapport with President Obama. PM Turnbull  proposed a Lebanese model of a power-sharing arrangement in Syria.  However, an opposition Syrian spokesperson has said that unfortunately each group would have their own militias and proposed instead a combination of the “reasonable” elements of the Assad regime (who apparently exist), and the “reasonable” elements from the opposition. After the vacuum created by the removal of Saddam in Iraq, no-one is quite sure what to do with Assad.

(Apparently Obama is aghast that Australia has leased the port of Darwin in northern Australia, where the USA now have a base, to China, for 99 years!)

It is wonderful that Aung San Suu Kyi won the election and hopefully will assume power in Myanmar. I’d love to speak about her unreservedly given her long struggle and sacrifices, but I have to say however, for political expediency, under pressure from the Buddhist ultra-nationalists, she has studiously ignored the genocide of the Rohingyas.

White peacocks in Bayview by Tim Berriman

Tim’s White peacock in Bayview, Sydney

Australia, however, has recently been severely criticised by the UN Human Rights Council by paragons of virtue like North Korea and Iran for our inhumane policies on asylum seekers, and the men, women and children who remain imprisoned on off-shore processing centres. I am ashamed to say these policies are supported by both major parties, although just when the Australian population finally seemed to be becoming uncomfortable about this, the events in Paris have hardened attitudes again.

While Malcolm Turnbull is still polling exceptionally well, it is primarily because he isn’t Tony Abbott, and in comparison he appears so measured, moderate and intelligent.

Turnbull likes saying that everything, like necessary tax reform for example, is “on the table” as in “up for debate”. The problem is that this government has been in office for over two years and so little has been achieved. An old Labor war-horse Graham Richardson recently wrote that Turnbull’s career has mostly been as an advocate, but that now  was the time for some over-due action as “both the Coalition and Labor have no plan to offer but a plan to develop a plan”.

PARIS CLIMATE CHANGE CONFERENCE: This event begins next week, and I hope the optimism for this climate change conference will be justified. It will be the first test for our new PM who as an intelligent person knows action to curb carbon emissions is essential, but he now leads a party which has been sceptical of climate change and indeed, unimaginable as it seems, has even appeared  to be anti-science. The government policy has been to do as little as they can get away with, PAY the polluters with our taxes, and provide $5 billion in subsidies to fossil fuel production.

Atlantic Puffin. The populations of this bird, like the European turtle dove (below) are plummeting in the UK.

Atlantic Puffin. The populations of this bird, like the European turtle dove (below) are plummeting in the UK.

Do see a recent article by Ross Gittins Growth doesn’t need to cost the earth from the SMH about the limits of economic growth and sustainability of our natural resources – “economic growth cannot continue indefinitely because the natural world – the global ecosystem – is of fixed size”.

While Obama has cancelled the proposed Tar Sands Pipeline from Canada, Australia has just given permission for a friend of Indian PM Moti, Mr. Gautum Adani, to mine in the Galilee Basin in Queensland. The development of EITHER the Tar Sands or Galilee Basin would on their own, ensure that the global target of restricting global warming to 2 degrees warming is impossible.

I am hoping for a global moratorium on any new coal mines, or the expansion of existing ones. The planet requires it.

The Australian Conservation Foundation is taking the Australian Government to court over the deleterious effect the development of the Adani-owned Carmichael Mine will have on the Great Barrier Reef. – and for failing to protect our lives! See here.

The ACF has also organised the People’s Climate Marches around Australia on November 27 -29th to coincide with the Paris Conference and many other people marching around the world.  In Sydney we are meeting at 1 pm in The Domain on Sunday 29th November. See here for the day and times in other Australian cities.

Mr. Adani’s companies do not have a good environmental record in India, and one of his mines in Zambia polluted a river which was a source of drinking water, fishing and irrigation for many people. The company did not even report it. Greenpeace has recently been kicked out of India which is not a good omen.

However, Australians cannot be righteous either as the recent collapse of a dam in Brazil owned by BHP Billiton (and Brazil’s Vale) has killed over 30 people, displaced 500, destroyed villages and polluted land and water for hundreds of kilometres.

More than half the recent studies published in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society indicate that human caused climate change has substantially influenced either an event’s frequency or intensity, or both.

We have already experienced the first bush fires of our summer season in West Australia and more recently South Australia.  Lives have been lost and the fires have been described as “unstoppable” and “catastrophic”.

European turtle dove. Photograph by Zahoor Salmi

European turtle dove. Photograph by Zahoor Salmi

MISC STATS: about 120 Australians are in the Middle East fighting with groups but mainly ISIL; only 27% of Australians think Prince Charles who has recently visited Australia should be our next head of state; and people are hoping that the actors De Niro and Di Caprio have donated the obscene $10 million that they were each paid to appear in a short film promoting our James Packer’s casinos. De Caprio has been a very generous and active supporter of environmental issues.

VALE: Jonah Lomu, who despite kidney disease, exploded on the Rugby Union scene in 1995, has died at 40.  I loved this fax sent by a 14 year old at the time: “Dear All Blacks, Remember, Rugby is a team game. All 14 of yers, pass the ball to Jonah.” Like many Pacific Islanders, despite his extraordinary ability, Jonah was a modest and humble man.

MAIL: thanks to many of you who keep me informed and amuse me. Thanks to Christine Townend for drawing my attention to Will the Lion, and an article entitled Your cat probably wants to kill you which many cat owners may relate to – or understand – I do! Thanks to Tim for the peacocks in his garden at Bayview, and “Hi” to Hugh who has watched Christian’s documentary or our reunion with him over 200 times, according to his mother!

Congratulations to Bindi Irwin (our Jungle Girl) who has won the US version of Dancing with the Stars.

Carnaby's Black-Cockatoo

Carnaby’s Black-Cockatoo

BIRDS: So many birds have ended up – almost inadvertently – on this blog, but this probably reflects the interest so many people have in them. Like so much wildlife and the Atlantic Puffin and European turtle dove, the Carnaby’s Black-cockatoo is struggling to survive urban sprawl in West Australia.  Birdlife Australia’s Cocky Count co-ordinator has said that on current trends their population would halve again in the next five years. They are the most endangered of the species which includes the Glossy, Yellow-tailed, Red-tailed and White-tailed Black cockatoo. I quite often see a flock of Glossy Black cockatoos in the same area as I drive out of the Royal National Park from Bundeena.

Champion singer Raden Hud Nad, a white-rumped shama

Champion singer Raden Hud Nad, a white-rumped shama

Bird keeping has a long tradition in Indonesia and competitions for song birds (kicau-mania) are hugely popular. Birds are assessed on their volume, power, melody and their ability to mimic other birds. This hobby took off when many men were made redundant during the Asian economic crisis of 1997-8. Unfortunately but not unexpectedly, their popularity and their shrinking habitats are contributing to declining songbird populations.

Northern Quoll. Image sourced from Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

Northern Quoll. Image sourced from Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

The disastrous and ongoing march of the introduced poisonous cane toads across northern Australia has nearly driven the Northern Quoll into extinction – like much else. The Island Ark Project established a colony on two islands and next year they will be introduced back to the mainland. They will hopefully have been conditioned by “taste aversion” to no longer eat toads. Read more here.

Tasmanian Devil. Image sourced from Devil Ark

Tasmanian Devil. Image sourced from Devil Ark

Tasmanian Devils have had their populations decimated by an epidemic of devil facial tumour disease.  Over 4 years a healthy colony has been established on the mainland as an “insurance population”, and they are to be re-introduced back to Tasmania. See Devilark.org.au for more details.

The issue of species extinctions is both complex and contested and this recent article Animal pragmatism by Maddison Connaughton in The Saturday Paper is a good introduction. “The battle against species extinctions is ethically fraught, with questions about the purpose of zoos and how we go about choosing winners in the animal kingdom. As habitat diminishes, what is the purpose of conservation?”

PETA however, are unequivocal about zoos: “Zoos teach people that it is acceptable to interfere with animals and keep them locked up in captivity”, and I certainly agree. Do see this article from Animals Australia titled “5 things we need to stop telling ourselves about zoos“.

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.

George Adamson and his lions

George Adamson and his lions

Today is the 25th anniversary of George Adamson’s death.  The Kenyan Wildlife Service are going to acknowledge this with a service at George’s camp Kampi Ya Simba at Kora, Kenya, on the weekend of the 30th August..

Through their observations, books, journals, photographs etc, Joy and George Adamson assembled the largest documentation about lion behaviour in the world. The book and film Born Free of course reached many millions of people and Elsa the lioness altered people’s perceptions of animals.  While some argued their methodology was “unscientific”, this huge archive may prove to be invaluable with only 20,000 wild lions left in Africa.

While Joy Adamson loved animals, she had a volatile and rather frenetic personality. George on the other hand, was very calm and considered.  He managed to create a neutral space where the two apex predators managed to co-exist with each other with respect and understanding.  These days he would be called a “lion whisperer”. Looking back now I wonder if he had too much confidence in all of us – the other people around, visitors, lions etc.

George’s assistant Stanley was killed by the lion Boy and was shot by George. When we were first there Boy would walk in and out of our tent at will.  At that stage Boy did not like “our” lion Christian and we were always uneasy about him. He had had a troubled life and we did not know him. He was however, Christian’s introduction to the lion world. Boy could have killed him as Christian was a potential rival as a younger male.  But after many months of rejecting him, Boy came to accept and love him and they became inseparable.  Christian had waited very patiently for this, but it had been heartbreaking to watch.

On the 20th August 1989 a guest at Kora was driving to collect another visitor arriving by light plane when she was held up by Somali “bandits” on the road.  George Adamson heard gunfire, jumped in his vehicle, and then drove straight at these people. He died in the proverbial “hail of bullets”.

George in his camp

George in his camp

George was 83. He was actually getting too old to remain living in such isolation – although he had described it as the happiest period in his life. I love this photograph in the hut where George worked, ate and socialised. Note the large photograph of Christian and George’s assistant Tony Fitzjohn on the wall. George did not play favourites but he deeply loved Elsa, Boy and Christian – and they loved him back just as deeply.

George Adamson was buried at Kora, beside his brother Terence.  The lion Boy, who George had known since he starred in Born Free, is buried nearby.

George Adamson and Christian

George Adamson and Christian

I also love this photograph – two friends just sitting together.  This must be one of the last photographs of Christian (early 1973?) as he is very big. In a recent blog I mentioned what I interpreted was Christian’s “cry for Africa”. “MoonieBlues” consequently sent me this fantastic “cry for Africa” from one of Kevin Richardson’s lions roaring as Kevin is recording a promo for World Lion Day!

CACH: Months ago I rang and then emailed the South African High Commission in Canberra to ask them their position on Canned Hunting.  I have to say their response, when I finally received it, appalled me.  I was sent the “position paper on lion hunting” from the Professional Hunters’ Association of South Africa (PHASA)!!!

My opinion is that the South African Government are allowing the shocking farming and hunting of lions to go more or less unchecked, most probably for the income it generates.  PHASA claims 9,000 overseas hunters visit South Africa every year making it the top lion hunting destination in Africa!  Not a claim to boast of. Tourism is one of the Governments “six core pillars of growth” and PHASA disparages “photographic eco-tourism” as “not commercially viable”. Let’s show them how wrong they are. I’m sure in time they will notice a boycott by tourists who are opposed to the killing of Africa’s iconic wildlife, and who want their contribution to be one of protection not exploitation.

A conveniently ambiguous distinction is drawn between “canned hunting” (shooting drugged lions in a confined space) and the “responsible” (whatever that means) hunting of “captive-bred” lions on private lands. Canned hunting is actually illegal, while shooting captive-bred lions and trophy hunting is not.  PHASA states that private enterprise owns 3 times more land dedicated to wildlife (and 4/5ths of game) than all state owned parks and reserves.  PHASA states that it will monitor the aptly named South African Predators Association (SAPA) – but who would actually police the activities on private land?

George and Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

George Adamson and Christian by Ace Bourke 1972

I just do not believe that hunting contributes to conservation, helps local communities with training and jobs etc, and builds a “sustainable” future for lions and other wildlife.  PHASA even claims that trophy hunting was a major contributor to saving the white rhino!

Australian rugby union player Clyde Rathbone recently visited a lion park out of Bloemfontein in South Africa where young lions were handled, and Clyde realised that he and the others had been drawn into “complicity in the exploitation of African wildlife”.  Read his thoughtful blog here. His behaviour contrasts with another rugby team visiting South Africa. The Crusaders from New Zealand were photographed with a zebra they had shot!

The more I learn the more horrified I become. I am determined to be part of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting and I will keep you informed and I ask you to keep me informed.

I suggest you contact the various South African High Commissions and let them know your feelings about the farming and hunting of lions.  I also ring travel agencies that advertise tours to South Africa and I ask if visits to wildlife sanctuaries include cub petting and walking with lions.

George by Ace Bourke

George Adamson by Ace Bourke 1972

George Adamson and his brother Terence were both born in India.  I am looking forward to shortly visiting there again – this time to give the Keynote Address on September 12th at the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) INDIA FOR ANIMALS conference in Jaipur.