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.