SECRETARY, TREASURER, ADVISORY BOARD CHAIRMAN AND BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Howard Baskin is a retired management consultant who worked with early stage and fast growing companies in the areas of strategic planning, finance and operations. He spent 11 years at Citicorp in various assignments, most recently as Director of Strategic Planning for the Commercial Real Estate Division. After leaving Citicorp in 1991 he was an equity participant and general manager in three companies, one of which he co-founded. He now devotes full time to Big Cat Rescue and serves on the Audit Committee.
Other civic activities include serving three years on the Board of Directors of the Upper Tampa Bay Chamber of Commerce and serving as first Chairman of its Performance Oversight and Monitoring Committee and member of it External Relations Committee. He also is a past member of The Rotary Club of Tampa, serving as Chairman of the Community Service Committee and on the Board of Directors.
Howard received his B.S. cum laude from Union College, Schenectady, NY in 1972, his J.D. cum laude from the University of Miami School of Law in 1978 and his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1980.
Howard Baskin admits that a few homeless cats have won his heart over the years, but saving abandoned and abused lions, lynxes, and leopards was by no means his dream, let alone his passion. When it came to giving to animal causes, he might write a modest check to the Humane Society of the United States. His world was finance and marketing.
Yet there’s no denying that a stroll where he works at the 45-acre Big Cat Rescue, a nonprofit educational sanctuary in Tampa, one of the largest in the world devoted to the big cats, leaves him inspired.
This is where Bengal tigers, African lions, snow leopards, bobcats, and other exotic cats recline gracefully on tree limbs, stretch languidly in their dens, or splash playfully in ponds amid shady oaks and palmettos. In all, there are 140 feline residents with permanent homes here. “Looking at these animals and realizing that I’ve been able to make a difference in the quality of their lives and securing their future is wonderful,” he says.
Baskin, 57, isn’t one of the cats’ caregivers, but he uses his financial acumen to ensure they live a healthful life. With a Harvard M.B.A. and a law degree, he spent the first 11 years of his career at Citicorp, rising to become director of strategic planning for the commercial real-estate division in New York. “Working in a small business had always been my plan, but I kept getting interesting jobs at the bank,” he recalls.
Finally, in 1991, he left Citi to work as a management consultant for a succession of small companies. Eight years later, he opted for a less stressful pace, consulting part time and freeing up time for tennis and leisurely rounds of golf. But something was missing.
And in 2003, just a few years into his semiretired bachelor life, he did an about-face. Before he knew it, he had ramped up to 60-hour workweeks at the sanctuary and agreed to take charge of its finances free. Sure, Baskin is fond of the cats, but it was another love that inspired him. His wife, Carole, whom he met in 2002 and married in 2004, founded the 15-year-old sanctuary and is ceo.
“I kind of married into this transition, although it was of course my choice, not a requirement,” Baskin says. “I fell in love with her. One thing that drew me to her was her passion for the mission and the excitement of working for a cause, not just living.”
Take Nikita, for example. The 6-year-old lioness spent her first year living on a concrete slab, chained to a wall by a drug dealer in Nashville. She was discovered in a raid and arrived at Big Cat five years ago with sores on her elbows the size of tennis balls.
Purrfect fit. Not all of the cats were abused. Some were abandoned by owners who could no longer afford to care for them. Others were retired from circus acts, rescued from fur farms, or obtained from roadside zoos that had fallen on hard times. Baskin came well prepared to bolster the sanctuary’s shaky financial underpinnings. The small firms where he used to work ran the gamut from a bridge builder to a foundry to an audiovisual firm. They were businesses where finances were in disarray when he arrived. Someone had to figure out how to get things organized and create systematic controls.
Visitors who take educational tours of Big Cat have doubled since 2003, to 26,000 last year. Revenues from contributions rose 50 percent in 2006 alone. The annual Fur Ball, the chief fundraiser, brought in an estimated $100,000 in October, up from $17,000 five years ago. Carole has had time to advocate for laws to crack down on illegal animal dealers and implement humane care standards for the cats.
Although Baskin would like to spend a bit more time on the golf course, there’s little other downside. His full-time consulting income, which often topped six figures, had already been trimmed, and he had a thrifty lifestyle, enough savings, and growing retirement funds.
“I don’t take a traditional salary, but, in reality, I get a double payback. I not only get to do something for the cats,” he says as he watches Nikita devour her afternoon “bloodsicle” snack. “I feel like I am contributing to the world. More importantly, I get to make Carole happy. That’s my No. 1 goal.” Spoken like a true newlywed.
PRESIDENT, VOLUNTEER COMMITTEE, BOARD OF DIRECTORS
Jamie Veronica is President of Big Cat Rescue, a member of the Board of Directors, and Chair of the Volunteer Committee. She has served in these capacities for well over ten years. She spent many years developing a sponsorship program whose financial success continues to contribute largely toward meeting our annual budget.
Jamie runs everything involved with the administrative side of the volunteer program including processing promotion applications, running hour reports, follow up with volunteers regarding their hours or classes, keeping the coordinators up to date on volunteers in need of training, keeping our policies and training classes up to date so that our people and animals are safe, coordinates rescues, runs our online gift shop and eBay store, manages the foster kitten program, including scheduling veterinary care, manages enclosure maintenance, coordinates our fundraising events and special online efforts.
An award-winning photographer, Jamie is the staff photographer and publishes our quarterly Big Cat Times newspaper, distributed to over 80,000 readers. She creates all of our print and web advertisements, billboards, brochures, books, donor plaques and signage. She manages all of the discount offers and reciprocal agreements with other attractions. She designed and initially implemented the sanctuary’s worldwide Internship Program.
Jamie is also a licensed wildlife rehabilitator and manages the sanctuary’s bobcat rehab program. She has successfully raised, rehabilitated and released many wild Florida bobcats and leads expeditions into the release sites to track and camera trap wild bobcat populations. She oversees and handles all rescues, veterinary procedures, transfer of animals on the property, and regulatory compliance issues. Jamie Carole’s daughter, Vernon and Barbara’s grand daughter and is married to Dr. Justin Boorstein, DVM.
See Jamie and Dr. Justin’s wild life here: https://vimeo.com/41566377
Bred for profit, the animals are often cruelly deformed by inbreeding.
July 28, 2010
by Ravi SomaiyaAlmost all of America’s 7,000 tigers are born and raised here. Reports from tiger farms suggest there are many unscrupulous breeders, and activists allege that the trade is cruel. What’s clear is that tigers are often kept in small pens, people die when safety is lax, and the cats are hideously inbred to produce valuable white cubs.The trade is not illegal, though a recent law bans the sale or trade of big cats across state lines for the pet trade. But breeders exploit a patchwork of state-by-state rules, and loopholes, to continue to sell cubs. People who rescue unwanted or mistreated tigers estimate that the number of breeders might be in the hundreds. Several alleged traders contacted by NEWSWEEK refused to be interviewed, perhaps because in recent years many operations have been shut down by authorities.
One of the biggest, Savage Kingdom, in Florida, was closed by the Department of Agriculture in 2006. Several accidents had occurred there. In 2001 a handyman named Vincent Lowe went into a cage to repair a dangerously worn-down gate. Colleagues had to watch as a 318-pound male tiger, Tijik, “ripped out [his] throat,” according to the USDA report. They could not rescue him for fear of being attacked themselves.
The tiger was eventually shot by Savage Kingdom’s octogenarian owner, Robert Baudy, who had been in the tiger trade for many decades—he’d even been on The Ed Sullivan Show promoting his animals. “He was from an era before animal welfare,” says Jamie Veronica, who is with the charity Big Cat Rescue and went into the farm after it was closed to try to remove and resettle dozens of tigers (all were eventually moved safely). “When he started out, people just saw animals as a commodity, a way to make money.” The USDA report blamed Baudy for safety failures that led to Lowe’s death. He could not be reached for comment at a number listed for him.Baudy specialized in white tigers, which sell for up to $20,000 per cub. But white tigers are rare genetic mutations, not a different species. According to the San Diego Zoo, every American white tiger is descended from a single father. New cubs must be inbred further. For every healthy, valuable cub, it is thought that many are born with ailments like shortened tendons, club foot, kidney problems, malformed backbones, contorted necks, and twisted faces.
Emily McCormack, a zoologist at Turpentine Creek, a refuge in Arkansas that rescues unwanted or abused big cats, has taken in several deformed cubs. “People don’t want these tigers because they don’t look perfect,” she says. “Who’s to say how many have been born with deformities that have been killed instead of rescued?” Activists also campaign against so-called white-tiger-conservation programs, whose very descriptions, says McCormack, are misleading: “They will never be returned to the wild. They don’t really exist in the wild.”
Siegfried & Roy, the illusionist duo, are famous for their white tigers. They claim on their Web site that they have 38. “For more than 20 years,” they say, “we have been entrusted with the care and preservation of the Royal White Tigers.” A spokesperson for the two did not return calls for comment about their breeding program. A statement from the Mirage Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, which houses many of Siegfried & Roy’s white tigers in an attraction called the Secret Garden, did not directly address the possibility that the program may have bred deformed cubs. It did say that “breeding is done responsibly under strict genetic management.” The Mirage did not respond to NEWSWEEK’s request for more information.
Actress’ tiger that mauled caretaker came from notorious Colton
10:00 PM PST on Wednesday, December 5, 2007
By SANDRA STOKLEY
The Press-Enterprise The tiger that mauled a caretaker this week at actress Tippi Hedren’s Shambala Preserve in Acton was one of the exotic cats relocated from Tiger Rescue, a notorious Colton sanctuary shut by state authorities in 2003.Hedren, who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s classic film “The Birds,” made the announcement Wednesday in an interview on KFI Radio. Harlan Boll, a Hedren spokesman, confirmed it.
Tiger Rescue operator John Weinhart was convicted in 2005 of multiple animal-cruelty counts after state Department of Fish and Game agents and local officials raided his Glen Avon compound in Riverside County in April 2003, and found the rotting and mummified remains of at least 30 exotic cats strewn about the property.
The Colton facility was shut after state officials found that the dozens of exotic felines housed there — most of them tigers — were being cared for improperly.
The big cats were relocated to sanctuaries around the United States.
The cat involved in this week’s incident was one of three juvenile tigers confiscated in late 2002, during the early stages of the investigation.
Hedren took in the three young tigers and named them after her grandchildren — Alexander, Stella and Dakota — the children of Hedren’s daughter, actress Melanie Griffith.
“There have been no problems with the cats since then,” Boll said.
Chris Orr, who has worked at Shambala for 9 ½ years, was mauled as he was cleaning Alexander’s compound about 2 p.m. Monday, Boll said.
Orr was grabbed by the back of the neck and dragged about 100 feet. Alexander dropped Orr when co-worker Jesus Torres yelled. Torres then dragged Orr to safety.
Orr remains in intensive care at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills, where his condition has been upgraded from critical to stable.
Boll said Orr suffered severe scratches to his arm and leg but that no vital organs were damaged.
Frozen panther found in Loxahatchee home baffles law enforcement
One dead panther was buried in a garage freezer. Another was stuffed and mounted on a wall.
The Oct. 16 discovery baffled law enforcement officers who were called to the 30-acre property in Loxahatchee that morning over a landlord-tenant dispute, according to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Offices.
The deputy who answered that call found himself staring into the eyes of a frozen panther that reportedly had been shot. At first, he thought it was a lion. Then a tiger. Officers later realized that the animal — buried under a pile of mangoes and two frozen birds — was a panther.
Gene Stimmler, 73, told authorities he didn’t know how his pet panther died, but that he was saving its carcass to make a rug. A former employee and tenant of his, who originally called authorities, said Stimmler shot it.
How the panthers died remains a mystery, yet one that state wildlife officials said they are not investigating. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission does not investigate the deaths of non-native captive wildlife, a spokeswoman said.
It’s unclear if the panthers, part of the cougar family, were endangered Florida panthers or a similar species that is less regulated. Stimmler has no currentstate permit to own a cougar as a pet.
In the past, he had a state permit for two pet cougars. He told investigators the frozen cat died about nine months ago and the stuffed one died long before.
In a telephone interview Tuesday, Stimmler said he’s owned about nine panthers over the years, and all were purchased legally. He said they probably were Florida panthers, but would not say where he bought them.
The Florida panther is a federally protected endangered species that cannot be sold or owned as a pet, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. Only 100 to 160 adults are believed to exist in the wild, mostly in South Florida.
The agency was unable to provide information about the Loxahatchee case Tuesday.
For his part, Stimmler defended his actions, calling the incident “ridiculous.”
“This has been hell,” he said. “I’ve had my name dragged through the mud.”
Stimmler’s property on D Road has been home to a menagerie of exotic animals, including lemurs, a monkey and dozens of exotic birds. He runs a landscaping company and plant nursery from his home.
It was a disgruntled former employee who last month tipped off police about the dead cat, according to the Sheriff’s Office report.
Joseph Valenzuela, 48, who lived in a trailer on Stimmler’s property, said he had been working for Stimmler for several weeks and was owed more than $600, the report said. Stimmler denied hiring Valenzuela to do any work for him.
The deputy arrived and advised Valenzuela to find a lawyer to dispute the owed wages, the report said. Before the deputy left, Valenzuela showed him the freezer where the dead panther was buried.
It was frozen “in a live state, eyes open,” the deputy wrote in an incident report.
He called state wildlife officers and county animal control.
Wildlife investigators photographed the dead panther. Stimmler denied having shot it.
But because there were no obvious signs of abuse, the officer did not check to see if the cougar was shot, FWC spokeswoman Katie Purcell said. The follow-up inspection at Stimmler’s home was completed last week, with no major violations reported.
Valenzuela, who has since moved off Stimmler’s property, said Stimmler often drowned unwanted pets and trapped animals from the wild. He said the cougar was missing one day and Stimmler said he had someone shoot it because it bit him in the leg.
“I know he was lying because there’s no bite mark,” Valenzuela said Tuesday. “I have no idea why he shot it.”
In May 2010, state wildlife inspectors warned Stimmler that his panther looked thin and that its water was dirty. That panther was kept in a chain-link cage outside his home. The animal looked ill,but not because of old age. It appeared to be 3 to 4 years old, the inspector wrote in the report.
“The panther’s hip bones were showing, indicating poor diet or parasites,” the FWC inspector wrote.
Cages for his lemurs and a marmoset monkey were too small, and his captive-wildlife permit had expired, the report said. Stimmler was given a warning to fix the problems and he promised he would.
But the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission did not follow up in the following months to ensure the changes were made. The agency only is required to inspect the homes of captive wildlife owners every two years, Purcell said.
Why do so many abusers keep big cats in their freezers?
Tiger Rescue Colton, CA (2002 10 tigers were seized and in 2003 13 young tigers were confiscated and 58 cubs found in the freezer) You gotta wonder, “Why?” http://www.savethetigers.com/
When Joe Schreibvogel was found to have had 23 tiger cubs die in 2010, you have to ask yourself, “How did the USDA figure that out?” Unless there were cubs in the freezer there isn’t any reporting that would have revealed that and to our knowledge there was no employee or volunteer who turned him in. Since it is still an open investigation (we checked Nov 2011) we don’t have all the facts, but I am betting that there were cubs in the freezer.
When “Wild Bill” in Homasassa, FL died his wife was later found to have a tiger in her freezer. She said she was cutting them up and feeding them to her living tigers, who were then confiscated, but why did she have tigers in the freezer to begin with? Tigers run 300-500 lbs and take up a lot of space so it would be very expensive to keep them frozen unless they were being kept for some lucrative purpose.
When a cat dies at Big Cat Rescue we do a necropsy to find out why and the cat may be kept in a hospital freezer briefly until we have the cat cremated by a company called Honor Thy Pet, but it cannot be kept in the food freezers (USDA regs) and usually isn’t kept on site for more than a few days or weeks at most. Most other facilities do not do necropsy reports (autopsy) and they just claim to bury their dead as cremation for a 500lb cat is really expensive, so why do they have big cats in their freezers?
A six year USFWS investigation called Operation Snow Plow revealed that these privately owned big cats were ending up in slaughterhouses and being killed for their parts. Most of the people who were caught in that investigation are right back in business.
Shambala founder says people who buy wild animals as pets are selfish.
ACTON — Wildcats — such as lions, tigers and bobcats — are not pets, emphasizes Tippi Hedren, founder and president of the Roar Foundation and the Shambala Preserve located near Acton, a sanctuary that currently houses endangered exotic cats, many of which have been mistreated in the past.
“Don’t ever consider a wild animal a pet,” Hedren said. “It doesn’t matter whether it is a little squirrel in your backyard or a Siberian Tiger. They deserve their freedom.”
Shambala recently took in two 6-year-old tigers who lived on Michael Jackson’s Neverland Ranch in Los Olivos. Jackson used the same veterinarian as Shambala, Martin Dinnes, who recommended that when Neverland’s zoo closed, the tigers be taken to Shambala, Hedren said.
The tigers, the female Thriller and the male Sabu, have been on the facilities since early April. Like all of the cats at Shambala, the tigers will spend the rest of their lives, which are often around 20 years, at the sanctuary.
Hedren said the tigers were not mistreated while at Neverland as an animal rights organization had alleged.
“Do those beautiful animals look like they were mistreated?” she asked pointing to the two tigers lying contentedly in the shade of their new habitat. “They were perfectly taken care of.”
In December, the Department of Agriculture sent an inspector to Neverland in response to a complaint from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, but the inspector found no signs of mistreatment.
Hedren, who is best known for her starring role in the 1963 Alfred Hitchcock film, “The Birds,” and as the mother of actress Melanie Griffith, opened the preserve in 1972 after falling in love with wildcats while filming two films in Africa during the late 1960s, she said.
“At the time, environmentalists were saying if things continued as they were, by the year 2000 (exotic cats) would be completely gone,” Hedren said.
She and her husband at the time, Noel Marshall, decided they wanted to produce a film featuring the magnificent endangered creatures, which eventually led to the purchase and founding of Shambala after they rescued many wildcats to use in the film. After a long production process, the film, “Roar” starring Hedren, Marshall, Griffith and wild lions from Shambala was eventually released in 1981.
Hedren founded the Roar Foundation in 1983, which raises all the funds to keep the Shambala Preserve open. The foundation must raise more than $1 million annually to maintain the facilities, Hedren said. The current construction of a new tiger compound for Thriller and Sabu will cost close to $70,000.
Jackson’s former tigers are only two of the 71 wild cats living at the 42-acre sanctuary. Most of the cats are the result of illegal breeding and sale within the United States. The exotic animal industry is just after the illegal drug industry in size, Hedren said.
“Every animal here has a story,” said Hedren, who has lived in a small house on the preserve facilities since 1976.
Hedren shared the horrors that many of the cats had gone through while owned by private citizens. More than 80 wildcats were found in a feces and trash-filled facility outside of Colton. The animals were kept in very little space with no water. Fifty-eight dead tiger cubs were found in the freezer. The owner had been trying to breed them.
Many people think a cute cub would make a great pet, but then mistreat or abandon them once they get older, bigger and more fierce, Hedren said. One of the sanctuary’s lions was found walking down a street in Missouri after being abandoned by its owners.
“People who buy these animals as pets are selfish,” she said. “There is nothing they can give a wild animal that they need other than medical care.”
In the past and currently, Hedren has been working to get legislation passed that will stop the breeding, sale and mistreatment of the creatures. Not only is it dangerous for the animals, but it is extremely dangerous for the people who buy the wild animals, she said.
She campaigned in front of Congress for the Captive Wildlife Safety Act, introduced by Rep. Howard “Buck” McKeon, which passed and was signed into law by President George W. Bush on Dec. 19. The legislation bans the interstate trade and transportation of wild big cats.
Hedren is authoring the tentatively titled Shambala Wild Animal Protection Act of 2006, which would ban the breeding and selling of wild cats. Currently, less than 20 states have laws on wild cat breeding, Hedren said.
“(Legislation) is the only way the breeding will stop,” she said. “But, it’s the enforcement of it that makes it work.
“The sad thing is even after the bill is put into fruition and enforced there will still be 20 years of accidents because the life span of the big cats in captivity can be 20 plus years.”
For more information on the Roar Foundation and the Shambala Preserve and their many education and fundraising opportunities, visit www.shambala.org or call 268-0380.
Christian the Lion the Truth About Lion ReUnion and His Tragic Demise
Christian the Lion or Lion Re Union
Why we are opposed to people forwarding Christian the Lion Reunion: No matter how many times you say that big cats should not be bred and traded as pets, if people see images of big cats acting like pets, they will continue to buy and dump them. More HERE about the kind of people who own exotic animals.
If you have had Internet access for more than a week, someone has probably sent you the 1971 video clip of two guys hugging a lion. The story as presented almost cannot help but moisten your eyes. But it creates a misimpression that leads to abuse and abandonment.
Look closely at the lion’s mane in the video. The small mane means this lion was approximately three years old, i.e. a cub, despite its size. Lion cubs grow quickly, typically reaching 100 pounds in just a year, and 200 by two years. It is mentally still a kitten until about five years of age and mentally still dependent on the object of its maternal bonding.
Passing this video around is a bad idea. It creates the totally false impression that the bond created when a human raises a lion or other big cat cub will create an affection on the part of the cat that will last and make it safe to be with the cat when it becomes an adult. It more broadly creates the impression that it is safe to handle an adult big cat.
This is simply not the case. There is no way to predict when a big cat, no matter how “tame” it may appear or how often it may have been used for physical contact without incident, will act on instinct. Roy Horn is one of the best known trainers in history, Montecore had performed many times, but all it took was one time when the cat acted on instinct to end his career. More tragically, a tiger at the Lost Creek facility had been used for “photo ops” many times before he acted on instinct and killed 17 year old Haley Hilderbrand who was having a photo taken with the cat to celebrate her high school graduation. Most of the cats you see in performing acts and petting booths or photo opportunities are under the age of five because they have not fully developed mentally.
By fostering the notion that these cats will be safe to touch as adults, the video encourages foolish people to buy them as pets, which is legal in many states. As the cats become adults they become unmanageable, unsafe, and typically are either kept in squalid small cages, abandoned, sold or given to people who use them to make money, or destroyed. It also encourages people to want to touch them or have their photos taken with them. As long as that demand and opportunity to make money is there, people who typically keep the cats in horrible conditions will continue to breed these animals into a life of abuse.
Please don’t pass this video around and if someone send it to you, please send them to this page. You can help end the vicious cycle of abuse.
Furthermore, this was the last time anyone saw Christian the lion and he was still just a cub. George Adamsom was ambushed and killed by bandits, but said in his autobiography, “Promises of solitude, of wild animals in a profusion to delight the heart of Noah, and of the spice of danger, were always honored. Today, of these three, you are only likely to encounter the danger.”
The following is what is known of the story behind the clip.
The British documentary “Christian the Lion” is a fascinating example of life imitating art. In this case, the art was the 1966 film classic “Born Free” starring Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna. That film was based on the real-life story of George and Joy Adamson and their successful efforts to re-introduce an orphaned lion into the wilderness.
(What most people do not know is that Elsa didn’t live long on her own due to the fact that is impossible for a person to teach a big cat everything they need to know to survive without the cat coming to not have a healthy fear of going near people.)
“Christian the Lion” found Travers and McKenna in an advanced case of déjà vu. In 1970, they were shopping for a desk and ventured into the World’s End furniture store on the King’s Road in London. The store managers, the Australian duo John Rendall and Ace Berg, recognized Travers and decided to show him the store’s mascot: a young lion. Rendall and Berg had purchased the lion from the Harrod’s department store a year earlier and were raising him on their own. But, of course, a furniture store is no place to keep a lion – and the combined salaries of two furniture store managers were barely keeping the animal fed.
Travers and McKenna, who had become highly visible as animal rights activists following the success of “Born Free,” realized that the lion could not be kept as a domestic pet. And selling him to a zoo seemed like a cruel idea – zoo design was still fairly primitive in the early 1970s and imprisoning a majestic lion in a stark cage was a ghastly notion. Thus, Travers and McKenna decided to reprise their “Born Free” odyssey and called on George Adamson for an unlikely plan: to bring the London lion to Africa and teach him how to be a wild animal at home with nature. (Joy Adamson had separated from her husband in 1970 and, thus, was not a part of this venture.)
Travers and McKenna also decided to record this story as a documentary. The resulting “Christian the Lion” actually gets off on a bit of a strange opening, with a clumsy recreation of the actors’ initial discovery of Christian. For starters, the sound is badly out-of-sync – watching the opening sequence is disconcerting, as it is easy to assume the production is an amateur outing. Even worse, the facts have been trimmed to the bone. Contrary to the film’s assertion, Christian’s presence was not a surprise to everyone – the lion was actually something of a minor celebrity in London before Travers and McKenna showed up, and it was even featured in a fashion advertising campaign. Furthermore, the film ignores Rendall and Berg’s respective girlfriends, who helped in the care and maintenance of Christian. Rendall also wrote a book called “A Lion Called Christian,” but that’s not cited here.
After that initial clumsy segment is over, “Christian the Lion” finds its traction and is presented as a real-time, real-life adventure. Travers and McKenna invited Christian and his owners to live with them while arrangements are made to transport him to Africa. They took the lion on outings for a spot of exercise – a romp in a closed-off church courtyard (with the vicar watching nervously from behind a curtained window) and a visit to the beach. The latter trip might have prompted the inclusion of the old British music hall ditty “Oh, We Do Like to be Beside the Seaside,” but instead the film’s score is provided in hippy-dippy melodies by the English folk-rockers Pentangle.
Getting Christian to Kenya required a great deal of negotiations with the Kenyan government (obviously they had enough lions and weren’t eager to import one from England). Travers and McKenna, who alternate as narrators of the film, mention in passing that dealing with the Kenyan authorities took more time and energy than they expected. Nonetheless, they are able to get Christian transported to Kenya and into the care of George Adamson’s game reserve.
The remainder of the film follows Adamson’s efforts to integrate Christian into his new surroundings. That first involved introducing him to other lions – up until this point, Christian lived exclusively with human company. Adamson tried to create a new pride of lions consisting of Christian and three other orphaned animals: the female Katania, the frisky tyke Super Cub, and a male lion named Boy who took an immediate dislike to Christian. However, once Boy and Christian determined the pecking order among them (Boy won the Alpha Male spot), the two became happy blokes.
Adamson’s next challenge was getting this new pride to take care of itself in the wild. The lions had to learn to hunt and to defend themselves from other lions that roamed Adamson’s preserve. Did Christian and his new family make it in the wild (if you can call the preserve, the wild)? If so, how long? Does anyone know?
There is a sequence late in the film that will soften even the most cynical of hard-hearts. The finds McKenna at a zoo in Amsterdam, where she has located Christian’s parents. The two lions are locked in a small, bare cage with a concrete floor. They pace endlessly and monotonously back and forth. It is tragic to behold these beautiful animals in such cruel captivity, and the viewer knows the beasts will never experience the chance for freedom that their offspring experienced.
Details on the production history for “Christian the Lion” are somewhat difficult to track down. Some sources list the film as a 1971 production, others claim it was from 1976. One online source states the film was produced in conjunction with Rendall’s book, which came out in 1972, so that would probably put the film’s production closer to the earlier date. Also, a recent article in the Daily Mail outlines a 1974 reunion between Christian and his London buddies, but that meeting also included Christian’s lioness and cubs. There is no mention of this in the film, so I would assume the production wrapped in 1971 (it would seem peculiar to leave this post-script from the film). 1976 most likely reflects the year the film played in the U.S.
The film also has something of a problem with its name. The original British title was “The Lion at World’s End,” a reference to the London neighborhood where Christian was raised. However, that reference had no meaning outside of the U.K., so the film was given a new title for its American release: “The Lion Who Thought He Was People.” The film’s U.S. distributor, Scotia American, created a poster with Christian wearing big round eyeglasses – making him look like the leonine equivalent of the cartoon canine Mr. Peabody. Of course, that title was even worse than the original, and the film was renamed “Christian the Lion” for its U.S. and global distribution. In the U.K., it is now called “Christian – The Lion at World’s End.”
There are also a few sources that insist “The Lion at World’s End” and “Christian the Lion” are two different movies. That is not the case.
Scotia American went out of business in the mid-1970s and nobody seems to be claiming the film’s U.S. rights. Several distributors who specialize in public domain titles have been offering faded, muddy prints of “Christian the Lion” on home video and DVD.