Blogger Barry: Again another wildlife story on animal behaviour
and communication which intrigues me greatly. How did Christian
know when his friends were going to visit him? Please read on…
Christian the lion.
Christian was a African lion originally purchased by Australians,
John Rendall and Anthony Ace Bourke from Harrods department store
of London, England, in 1969 and ultimately reintroduced to the
African wild by conservationist George Adamson. Famous for his
book “Born free”.
One year after George Adamson released Christian to the wild, his
former owners decided to go looking for him to see whether
Christian would remember them. He did, and with him were two
lionesses who accepted the men as well.
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Christian’s Early years:
As a cub, Christian was originally acquired by Harrods from the
now-defunct zoo park in Ilfracombe. Rendall would later recall the
department store was eager to sell the cub, which had escaped from
his cage one night and destroyed the merchandise in the carpet
department. Rendall and Bourke purchased Christian for 250
Rendall and Bourke, along with their friends Jennifer Mary Taylor
and Unity Jones, cared for the lion where they lived in London
until he was a year old. As he got larger, the men moved Christian
to their furniture store coincidentally named Sophistocatwhere
living quarters in the basement were set aside for him. Rendall
and Bourke obtained permission from a local vicar to exercise
Christian at a church graveyard, and the men also took the lion on
day trips to the seaside.
Christian’s growing size and the increasing cost of his care led
Rendall and Bourke to understand they could not keep him in London.
When Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, stars of the film Born
Free, visited Rendall and Bourkes furniture store and met
Christian, they suggested that Bourke and Rendall ask the
assistance of George Adamson.
Adamson, a Kenyan conservationist, who together with his wife Joy
raised and released Elsa the Lioness, agreed to reintegrate
Christian into the wild at their compound in the Kora National
Virginia McKenna wrote about the experience in her memoir The Life
in My Years, published March 2009.
Adamson introduced Christian to an older male lion, Boy, who had
been used in the movie Born Free and who also featured prominently
in the documentary film The Lions Are Free, and subsequently to a
female cub Katania in order to form the nucleus of a new pride.
The pride suffered many setbacks: Katania was possibly devoured by
crocodiles at a watering hole; another female was killed by wild
lions; and Boy was severely injured, afterwards losing his ability
to socialize with other lions and humans, and was shot by Adamson
after fatally wounding an assistant.
These events left Christian as the sole surviving member of the
Over the course of a year, as George Adamson continued his work,
the pride established itself in the region around Kora, with
Christian as the head of the pride started by Boy.
When Rendall and Bourke were informed by Adamson of Christian’s
successful reintroduction to the wild (reported in some newspaper
articles to be in 1971, and by George Adamson to be 1972[ they
travelled to Kenya to visit Christian and were filmed in the
documentary Christian, The Lion at World’s End (released in the
U.S. as Christian the Lion).
According to the documentary, Adamson advised Rendall and Bourke
that Christian might not remember them. The film shows the lion at
first cautiously approach and then quickly leap playfully onto the
two men, standing on his hind legs and wrapping his front legs
around their shoulders, nuzzling their faces. The documentary also
shows the female lions, Mona and Lisa, and a foster cub named
Supercub welcoming the two men.
Rendall details a final, largely unfilmed reunion that occurred
(reported in some newspaper articles to have been in 1974, and by
George Adamson to have been in 1973. By this time Christian was
successfully defending his own pride, had cubs of his own and was
about twice the size he was in the earlier reunion video. Adamson
advised Rendall that it would most likely be a wasted trip as he
had not seen Christian’s pride for nine months. However, when he
reached Kora, Christian and his pride had returned to Adamson’s
compound the day before their arrival.
Rendall describes the visit he and George Adamson made:
We called him and he stood up and started to walk towards us very
slowly. Then, as if he had become convinced it was us, he ran
towards us, threw himself on to us, knocked us over, knocked George
over and hugged us, like he used to, with his paws on our
The second reunion lasted until the next morning. According to
Rendall that was the last anyone saw Christian.
George Adamson counted the days without seeing Christian from the
late spring 1973 final reunion. He notes in his book My Pride And
Joy that after 97 days, he stopped counting.
In 1971, Christian’s owners published his story as A Lion Called
Christian. This book was republished in 2009 following the spread
of his story on YouTube.
A video of the 1971 reunion, edited from the documentary, was first
posted on a fan web site in 2002. From there it was picked up by
a MySpace user and then picked up from MySpace and posted on
YouTube where it became a viral video and worldwide sensation, more
than 30 years after the event. As of July 2009, several versions
of the video have been viewed millions of times on YouTube, one
garnering over 15 million. Various news sources have since tracked
down Rendall and Bourke for their current perspective on the events
surrounding their life with Christian.
In September 2008, Sony Pictures announced that it was interested
in obtaining the rights to the story of Christian’s life for the
purpose of making a feature film.
A children’s book about Christian was published in 2010.
Christian, the Hugging Lion was written by Justin Richardson and
Peter Parnell, and illustrated by Amy June Bates. The book was
nominated as a finalist for a 2011 Lambda Literary Award in the
Children’s/Young Adult Fiction category.
Blogger Barry: Article originally received by email 24 August
2012. 10:23 AM
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Barry Blomkamp Nd. Bsc (UL)
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