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”.

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.