Dr John Christopher Michael Lewis (Class of 1971)
It is with enormous sadness that we have to report the sudden and untimely death of our lovely friend, John Lewis. He was a pioneering and widely admired zoo and wild animal vet, a lifelong loyal friend to many of us, but most importantly a loving and deeply loved family man to his adored wife Allie and his son Killian.
John came to CLS in 1965 joining N2A and soon making a group of friends he maintained for 50 years (six of us had met for one of our regular zoom meetings only a couple of weeks before his death). He sailed through the school in the A-stream academically and captaining the rugby team at every level. In the Biology sixth he was lucky to be taught by a young and enthusiastic Dr Peter King (who was also a regular in our meetings 50 years on). Peter encouraged John’s interest in biology and planted the idea of doing veterinary medicine; he won the A-level Biology prize, was a prefect and captain of Seeley, captained the 1st XV, played county rugby and won an early place at Queens’ Cambridge. He waltzed through the veterinary course, subsequently doing a PhD in human oncology, and he probably only missed out on a rugby blue because of his lifelong, admirably negative, attitude to authority (although he did also have a bad ankle injury early on…)
Following his PhD he worked initially at Lewisham PDSA then whilst working at London Zoo had the opportunity to join International Zoo Veterinary Group (IZVG) and relocated to Al Ain in the Middle East for a year to work in a zoo owned by a Sheikh. The position was not without its challenges - he recalled having to lie on the ground when eating with the Sheikh to make sure his head was not higher than the ruler’s - but gave him a wealth of experience and a chance to hone his blow-piping and darting skills… On returning to the UK, John was offered a permanent position with IZVG and he continued his zoo consultancy work - in this country and overseas - through the practice throughout his working life.
Alongside his zoo work, John was able to develop his main areas of interest: big cats, particularly tigers, and his specialism in anaesthesia of large carnivores. In 2004 he co-founded the Wildlife Vets International (WVI) charity, providing veterinary support to wildlife conservation projects both internationally and in the UK. A legacy that continues to thrive today.
Whist earning huge international respect and reputation, John was an inspiring teacher and lecturer and extended kindness and generosity to anyone interested enough to ask a question: He came to speak at the Sussex Medical Society in 2011 and mesmerised over 100 hardnosed physicians with tiger stories and pictures of his published invention for anaesthetising tapirs in the wild, which turned out to be an upturned wellington boot on the animal’s nose with the toe end attached to an anaesthetic machine…
John worked hard - often in uncomfortable conditions far from home, but he always maintained a close relationship with his son, Killian, of whom he was immensely proud. He married Allie in 2017, and they were happily settled in an idyllic cottage in the Surrey Hills: Allie travelled with John as much as possible and met many of his wonderful friends and colleagues who shared his passion for the conservation of wild tigers (amongst other species) and their habitat.
Most recently, John was working on what he considered his most important piece of work, and most significant contribution to veterinary medicine - a website he designed to be a living textbook and source of information and professional support for vets and biologists working in the field on wild tiger health projects.
The Wild Tiger Health Centre website is John’s legacy and many friends and colleagues have pledged support to ensure his work continues.
John sadly died at the peak of his veterinary powers and at a very happy time in his personal life. His family and large number of friends will miss him terribly. Go well Lewis.
Allie Lewis and Mark Signy (CLS 1965-71)