The Emotive Story of Christian, the Lion.
A Creature who learned to love man and not regret it.
This is such a moving story
Hot, disturbing news! Virginia McKenna said on British Television today (Jan 31, 2011) that there are only 2,000 lions left in the wild. She said "Lions are replacing the nearly extinct tiger in providing body-parts to the Chinese to use for their (quack) medicines." "Lions are besieged on every side, " Virginia said. ""We shall loose them altogether if we don't act now!"
Now, please read my story of one lucky lion.
I just saw the most moving program on British Channel 30 (Free view) television. I expect many if not most people will have heard of the story of Christian, the lion, but there may be a few that have not and it's so rare to find one of these true life exposes that ends well and happily (except for the goodbyes) that I thought I would write a small article about it.
Christian was a lion cub acquired by Harrods Emporium in London from a failed Ilfracombe zoo - goodness knows why, except you could be crazy back then without all the nannies and the ’elf and safety wallahs coming out of the woodwork. Anyway, the rambunctious cub was soon found to be too much for the store to swallow. They finally decided to get rid of him when he got out at night and destroyed the carpet department. (What fun!).
He was purchased for 250 guineas (a sort of posh pound and one shilling back then) by two Australian furniture designers, John Rendall and Anthony "Ace" Bourke, who moved Christian into the basement of their furniture store in the West end of London (more fierce loins than lions around there!). A friendly vicar nervously allowed them to exercise the growing cat in his graveyard. (Evidently, one of the Aussies said it was a case of the lion being thrown to the Christians!). They also took him to the seaside which he seemed to appreciate.
Like lions will, Christian was getting bigger and heavier by the minute. One thing that impressed me from start-to-finish of this charming documentary is that Christian never - ever- allowed himself to deliberately hurt anyone, even when he became a magnificent, fully-grown male lion. He was playful and loving and anyone that says animals don't express their feelings should see the look of sheer adoration on this creature's eyes as he looked at John and Ace.
When he was a year old and weighed 90 kilos they realized something had to be done and they could not keep him for ever among people. Neither would consider zoos or circuses, in fact, they wouldn't even consider animal parks (in their infancy then anyway).
One day, purely by serendipity, their furniture shops was visited by Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, the stars of the movie "Born Free," (about the lioness, Elsa, who was re-introduced back to the wild). They suggested the Aussies contact George Adamson, who was trying to start his own pride of lions in Kenya, at the Kora Reserve. They did this, found Adamson to be willing and began a 3-month discourse with the Kenyan government to get permission to import Christian. The authorities were reluctant at first because they said they had "enough wild lions of their own," and they were against the idea of dealing with "tame" lions which they saw as rightly dangerous.
Christian, John and Ace made the trip together, with the lion in the hold, and arrived safely. After some time, Christian was carefully introduced to "Boy," Adamson's huge lion used in filming and his books. Boy made Christian show his obsequiousness and accept his dominance - which he did by rolling on his back, and the two gradually became inseparable. Why don’t idiots in bars do that instead of shoving broken glasses in each other’s faces? Lions have more sense, of course.
John and Ace were getting regular bulletins from Adamson when very sad news arrived. Boy had been in a serious fight with a pride of wild lions and was seriously injured - in fact, he nearly died and could not be allowed back in the wild with Christian. Boy's personality so changed he became savage and attacked on of Adamson's assistants, causing Adamson to reluctantly shoot the lion. Unfortunately, neither Boy nor the assistant survived their wounds.
John and Ace came back to visit Christian in 1971, wondering if he would still remember them, not a little apprehensive when they saw how he had grown. Christian approached slowly and then they called his name and he rushed at Ace and bounded into his arms! It was a moving moments, especially as the lion had his own small family of two lionesses and a cub! When these other lionesses saw Christian had accepted John and Ace, they all became affectionate towards them.
The Aussies returned again in two years although Adamson had said he had not seen the pride in many months. Perhaps by some telepathy unknown to us, Christian was there with his small pride the day before they arrived!
He was then a fully grown male lion with all the detachment and dignity they possess. But again, he was friendly and loving towards them. One of the Aussies said he stayed up all night, drinking and smoking and playing with the boys, but left early the next morning "on lion business," after he had had a good nap to combat the excesses of the night before!
This was the last time anyone saw Christian. Perhaps imbued with a more developed intelligence as regards priorities than our own, this incredible creature saw that his life and transaction with humans was at end. But he seemed to bear no ill-will and we all hope he had a long and rewarding life with his pride. He was now able to take care of them and fight off any opposition. He probably lived for another 10 years, or a bit more, until he was too ill to hunt and would have succumbed to the cruel law of the jungle; probably about 1985 or so. Of course, Adamson may know something he is not telling, but I prefer to believe that, for once, this kind of story had the happy ending that was broadcast.
This story has just received a lot of attention recently after 40 years, I don't quite know why, but you can see the marvellous video of the reunions on you.tube and there are a couple of books and a film either just out, or planned.
I thought it was a lovely story and when you follow up on this simple introduction, so will you,
Footnote George Adamson was murdered in 1989 when going to the rescue of a tourist. Rendall still lives in the UK and is running Adamson's trust. Ace Bourke is back in Australia and involved in many things, including Aboriginal affairs. There are some wonderful photos of one and all - especially Christian - on Google images and youtube has many short clips of the events.