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.

Christian 1972 by Ace Bourke

Christian 1972 by Ace Bourke

When we returned again to Kenya to visit Christian and George Adamson in 1972, I took a super 8 video camera.  I’ve finally had my very amateur footage transferred to DVD, and this photograph is a still from it.  The footage is a loving portrait of Christian – I remember thinking I will never remember just how beautiful all his markings were. He was growing into a very big lion, and was increasingly independent.  We didn’t know that we would never see him again. I recently showed this short, unedited footage for the first time, at a fund raising art exhibition for the Animal Welfare League NSW  in Sydney.

Animal Welfare League NSW:  I have visited the two animal shelters in Sydney (Ingleside and Kemps Creek) run by the Animal Welfare League NSW where dogs and cats wait to be “re-homed” to a suitable household.  The shelters are very well administered, in attractive settings, and depend on donations, sponsorship and the loving care of volunteers. Animals are well looked after and are assessed and  monitored by vets and animal behaviourists.  The AWL also campaigns, for example, against puppy farming, and acts on reports of animal cruelty.

Artists who generously participated in the AWL fund raising exhibition included Joanna Braithwaite (below), and Janet Laurence.   I recommend you watch Laurence’s beautiful and meditative series of animal and nature videos here.  Many artists these days are imaginatively examining human/animal and environmental inter-relationships.  They share a great love of animals and generously support causes related to animal welfare and rights.

Lengthy Tales by Joanna Braithwaite Courtesy Darren Knight Gallery.

Lengthy Tale 2013 by Joanna Braithwaite. Courtesy Darren Knight Gallery.

MAIL: Thanks for the responses to the last blog, and many of you also seem to enjoy Christian’s birthday. People loved and commented on Jiawei Shen’s portrait. Michele, for example, found the painting “mesmerising”. She also wrote “Christian is born in the month of Leo and has the life path of 9. He was born to be a spiritual gift to the universe – he was the consummate LION. The LION of LIONS!!

Joy Adamson with Elsa

Joy Adamson with Elsa. Source Elsa Conservation Trust.

ELSA: A few weeks ago I watched the documentary Elsa: the lioness who changed the world (you can view some of the clips here). The phenomenal success of Joy Adamson’s 1960 Born Free book (translated into 25 languages), and the subsequent film did help change how people thought about animals – especially “wild” animals. They were now viewed as individual beings, and hopefully this has made us more mindful of their futures. There were interviews with Virginia McKenna, who had played Joy Adamson in the film, and with Tony Fitzjohn who was George Adamson’s assistant at his camp at Kora and is now the Field Director for the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust.

Joy Adamson took the most marvellous photographs of Elsa, who was, like Christian, an exceptional lion. George realised that they should have retained the three cubs, instead of sending two to a European Zoo, as this would have made it easier to rehabilitate Elsa.  Subsequently, he knew to build a pride around Christian.

There was some good footage of Christian, especially with Tony Fitzjohn.  Christian was the first lion Tony had met, and he said they were both like new boys finding their way in the wild.

Lion in Shaft of Light

Lion in Shaft of Light by Nick Brandt

NICK BRANDT: Source Photographica in Melbourne is having another exhibition of the majestic photographs of Nick Brandt from 5 -27 October. The exhibition is the final volume in a trilogy which has been presenting a “complex and deep portrait of Africa”, and it has been fascinating to watch Brandt chart this through his powerful and exceptionally beautiful photography.  It is hard not to be depressed that many of the subjects of his photographs are facing extinction, and that there is so little effective action to save them.  80 elephants have just been poisoned in Zimbabwe.  It should be inconceivable that we may see the end of the elephant, for example, in our life time, on our watch.

Elephant with Baby Nuzzled into Leg

Elephant with Baby Nuzzled into Leg by Nick Brandt

A recent radio interview referred to Indira Gandhi’s Project Tiger which she started in India in 1973 when the tiger was on the brink of extinction.  From an estimated 40,000 in the early 20th century, numbers had shrunk to approximately 1800 by 1973.  She introduced the Wildlife Protection Act in 1973, and hunting tigers was banned and reserves created. Unfortunately, after the assassinations of her and her son, the Indian government from 1992 up to the present have made bad and late decisions and neglected necessary reforms, and tiger numbers are now down to an estimated 1700.

AUSTRALIAN ELECTIONS: OK, my side lost the election and I’m a bad loser! It was inevitable however, and I hope the Labor Party rediscovers some fundamental values. It has been a hung parliament yet despite an adversarial, negative and policy-free Opposition, alot of legislation was passed, and some major reforms of national significance initiated.  But it has not been a pleasant time, and has felt like one long election campaign.  It is sort of a relief that it is finally over, even if it is back to the future.

There is only one woman in Prime Minister Abbott’s 20 person cabinet (described as “pale, male and stale”) and he is dismantling our Emissions Trading Scheme and any institutions associated with climate information or policy. The climate sceptics are showing their hands, and there is not even a Minister for Science. Their replacement scheme Direct Action is not taken seriously, but perhaps will now be under scrutiny. David Suzuki, who has been visiting Sydney, has written and spoken about how Abbott is “dooming future generations”, and that “willful blindness” should be an offence.

The recently released latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has stated that there is a 95% certainty that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming in the atmosphere and the ocean.

In the SMH, RossGittins writes that in the election the public didn’t really like either contender, confirming my own feelings, and that Labor is the eternally dissatisfied party of “reform”, while the Libs are the conservatives, “satisfied with the world as is and trying to stave of disruptive change for as long as possible”.

In contrast to his noise and daily photo ops in opposition, the Abbott government has been almost invisible, and the politicians muzzled.   There were a few spiteful sackings of public servants.  The Minister of Defence wants to keep up a “war momentum” and has his hopes on possibilities in Pakistan.  There was an immediate spat with Indonesia, our closest neighbour, just before Abbott visited.

Rupert Murdoch had a big election win after a blatantly partisan campaign against the government in his newspapers.   Too many of his journalists tarnished their reputations.  A loose cannon self proclaimed billionaire got 3 Senators and possibly himself elected (subject to a recount), and also holding the balance of power are some wild cards with very few votes who got into the Senate on preference deals.

Giraffes Crossing Lake Bed

Giraffes Crossing Lake Bed by Nick Brandt

READING: I’ve actually been watching so much sport (from Rafa winning the US Open,  to football finals etc), I haven’t been reading books but I’ve heard or read interviews about:

Starting with Max is by Ying Ying who came to Australia from Hong Kong with her family, and who describes how having a dog has changed her life.  After the family cat “decided not to come to Australia and died”, she promised her daughter a dog in Sydney, much against her own wishes.  She of course fell in love with Max the dog and her daily walks in the park “awakened her senses”, and  opened her own eyes to the natural beauty of Australia.  He touched her heart and “made her a better person”.

FERAL, a recent book by George Monbiot, an environmental journalist who I have quoted in the past, is about our need for re-wilding – ‘to recover the animal in ourselves and in the Earth”.  He imagines forests regrowing, and animals returning – like the brown bears have in parts of Europe.  Wolves were exterminated from the Yellowstone National Park, but since their reintroduction there has been a restoration of plants, trees and soil, as the deer have been forced higher up the mountain.  There is an ongoing debate about deer in Bundeena – a family of deer live at the top of my garden in the Royal National Park.  As an introduced species, their eating habits do create environmental  problems.

Australian Wildlife Conservancy: Recently the Australian Wildlife Conservancy arranged for 6 artists to visit Mornington Wildlife Sanctuary, their 6000 square kilometre conservancy in the Kimberley region of West Australia. The resulting excellent exhibition was opened by scientist/conservationist/writer/academic Tim Flannery – just sacked by the government as the chief climate commissioner!

I think conservancies and the buying up of tracts of land are an excellent future direction that offers the best protection.  In Africa various conservancies are trying to preserve or link uninterrupted corridors of land used as traditional migration routes for animals.

The AWC owns 23 properties in Australia covering 7.4 million acres.  They believe in “practical land management informed by strong science”.  These properties are offering protection to more than 1200 native animal species, and the AWC runs fire management and feral control programs.  It is possible to visit  and stay at some of their properties, observe land management practices, see wildlife and many birds, and fly in helicopters over spectacular scenery.

For visitors to Australia this would be a unique opportunity to visit a remote and beautiful part of Australia, especially with the opportunity to view Aboriginal art in places like Broome.

Needless to say, feral cats are the AWC’s  Enemy Number One!!!!

Devon Rex by Peter O'Dougherty

Devon Rex 2013 by Peter O’Doherty. Courtesy King Street Gallery.

WORLD: Obama was made to look “ham fisted” over Syria, and Putin took the chance to question American exceptionalism – in the New York Times. The chemical weapons issue just gives Assad more time to continue killing and displacing his own population.  The difficulty is  – especially post Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya – another American intervention would be another grave mistake.

Sectarian violence is worsening In Iraq.  Banning the Muslim Brotherhood and forcing them underground in Egypt seems extremely provocative – they did actually win the election!  Some commentators are saying the Arab Spring has been replaced by Islamic terrorism, as most recently demonstrated in Nairobi. Oil has begun to flow again in Libya. The new President of Iran, Hassan Rouhani, has been surprisingly/suspiciously conciliatory to the US after 30 years. Pope Francis is sounding encouragingly human.

ECONOMY:  From my perusal of business reports in the media, some people are unfortunately warning about a new wave of global financial turmoil. Apparently new money from the printing presses of the US, EU and Japan have caused “a sucking of funds from emerging markets” i.e. countries like India, Indonesia, Brazil, Turkey and South Africa.

Fortunately China remains “reasonably robust”, and, according to the leaked internal memo Document 9, the Chinese leadership seems more worried about the dire threats and dangers posed by discussions of “democracy”, “universal values of human rights” and a “free press”.

Ned Kelly by Sidney Nolan

Ned Kelly 1946 by Sidney Nolan. Source Royal Academy of Arts

LONDON: A large exhibition entitled Australia has opened at the Royal Academy of Arts in London. There are 200 paintings from 200 years with 146 artists, with the broad theme of “landscape”.  While it contains most of our major artists and some iconic paintings, it has been criticised for being too general, and curatorially old fashioned.  One critic described the Aboriginal art as “tourist tat”.  As some of the most widely admired Aboriginal artists are represented, few would agree with him.  Australian art has been overlooked in the UK for a long time, and this now quite controversial exhibition may – or may not – lead to an interest in more focused exhibitions of Australian art.

USA: I have to mention even more mass shootings in the US recently.  As the mother of a victim said about Congress “Who else has to die before you get it?”.  I think in Australia we find it hard to imagine how the National Gun Lobby is so powerful and even seem to be extending its influence.

Apparently in The Right Nation, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge argue that the “centre of gravity of America opinion is much further to the right” than in other rich countries.  The Republican Party can seem very heartless, especially at present with the current threats to defund Obamacare, and to “shut down” the government.

The sophisticated American Ambassador to Australia, Jeff Bleich, is returning to America.  When asked how similar Americans and Australians are, he said we are 80% the same and 20% different.  In Australia “there is a great levelling of all people and a great appreciation that no one should think too much of ourselves” and that successful Australians “wear their celebrity and their accomplishments very lightly”.

Panther Release ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

Panther Release ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

William Abbey, who grew up in England and lives in Florida, has shared interests in some of the subjects I write about and like many of you, emails me about them.  I appreciate this, especially any information concerning animals and how we can help them.  William loves panthers and polar bears especially. Click here and here for two articles he has recently sent about the rehabilitation of the Florida panther, and organisations working for the protection of polar bears and their habitat.

Panther Kitten ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

Panther Kitten ©Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission

I recently enjoyed the exhibition Talk Show where artists responded to the “televisual landscape of this genre of syndicated entertainment”.  I bought a painting of Oprah Winfrey from artist Anney Bounpraseuth’s Wailing Wall series. Part Two, Talk Show (after the break) opens at Kudos Gallery, Paddington, Sydney on 15th October. I spoke to co-curator JD Reforma about appearing on Oprah and The View etc, and the exhibition did make me reflect on the “notion of celebrity”, and the “socioeconomic construction of failure and success”.  It was never one of my dreams to go on Oprah. It was a big audience to fail in front of!  While it was brilliant for Christian’s story of course, I personally found the whole experience rather nerve wracking!

Ace with Anney Bounpraseuth

Ace with Anney Bounpraseuth