In 1969, Anthony "Ace" Bourke and John Rendall left Australia headed to England. After having been there for several months, the pair visited the pet department of Harrod's Department Store in London where they were surprised to find a couple of lion cubs for sale. Ace and John became enamored with one of the cubs who seemed particularly sweet-tempered and playful, and eventually decided to buy him. They dubbed the lion Christian, and for the next several months, he lived with them in the basement of the furniture store where they worked and played in the nearby churchyard. The lion in the store window became quite the curiosity to passersby, and seemed to endear himself to everyone he met. Ace and John knew they couldn't keep Christian forever though, and had begun looking for alternative living arrangements for him almost from the moment they bought him. As Christian continued to grow it became even more apparent that he would need a new place to live...and soon, but they didn't want him to have to be cooped up in a zoo or circus environment.
As luck would have it, actors Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, stars of the hit movie, Born Free, about Elsa, the lioness's return to the wild, came into the shop one day. They too were quite taken with Christian, and offered to get in touch with George Adamson, the man who had rehabilitated Elsa. When George heard about Christian, he immediately started looking for a suitable place in Kenya to begin his rehabilitation. Bill and Virginia also wanted to make a documentary about this remarkable lion. After several months, George finally found the perfect spot to return Christian to the wild, and everyone traveled to Kenya to begin the work. After spending some time at the camp in Africa, Ace and John eventually said their goodbyes to Christian and returned to England, leaving the lion in George's capable hands. Over time, Christian became one of George's success stories, but the most remarkable part of it all, was that after living in the wild for over a year, he had not forgotten his two human friends.
A Lion Called Christian is a wonderful, almost serendipitous true story of how two friends from Australia purchased a lion cub from Harrod's Department Store in London in 1969, and about a year later were able to return him to the wild in Africa. Christian seemed like the most gentle, even-tempered lion one could ever hope to encounter. He also had a very big personality. From the moment the authors, Anthony "Ace" Bourke and John Rendall met Christian at Harrod's they were completely taken with him. I think it was that immediate bond, perhaps coupled with a little bit of daring on their part and a little enjoyment of the novelty of owning an exotic pet that fueled their purchase of Christian. Even though they had fun with the latter, Ace and John were pretty realistic right from the start, knowing that they couldn't keep Christian forever, because he would eventually outgrow their living space. Almost from the moment they bought him, the friends began looking for suitable arrangements for Christian when the time came. They hated the idea of him being in a zoo or circus and were always looking for someplace where he could be in a more natural habitat. The area in which they worked seemed to be a draw for the wealthy and celebrities, and as luck would have it, the pair had the good fortune to meet Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, the stars of the motion picture, Born Free. Since making the movie, Bill and Virginia had been very involved in conservation efforts and making wildlife documentaries, and were able to get Ace and John in touch with George Adamson, the man who Bill had played in the movie. This set in motion a series of events which made it possible for Ace and John to return Christian to Africa to be rehabilitated into the wild.
Ace and John wrote A Lion Called Christian after taking Christian to Africa. It was first published in 1971, but apparently the book was recently updated and re-released when the video clip of their reunion with Christian a year later went viral on YouTube. The idea that a lion could not only remember them, but greet them with the same affection and exuberance that he had shown when they lived together, after spending a year in the wild, was amazing. Although Christian had a couple of frightful moments that were a stark reminder of the wild creature that he was, thankfully, no one was seriously injured, and all in all, he sounded like a wonderful animal that it would have been a pleasure to know. I'm not sure what the practices were at that time, but nowadays, scientists would probably have tagged and/or put a tracker on him to trace his movements. At that time, George Adamson physically went out looking for the lions he was rehabilitating, and eventually lost track of Christian when the lion moved too far away. It would have been nice to know precisely what became of him. Unfortunately, we can only assume, but Christian's life was a pretty remarkable one for the three years that humans knew and interacted with him. There was also a documentary made in conjunction with Christian's exodus from England and reintroduction to his natural habitat which I hope to see at some point.
It seems that Christian was an inspiration to all with whom he came in contact, and through this book, I was no exception. I've always loved animal stories and this one was a quick and easy read. I think older children and up could appreciate its message of friendship, loyalty, love and trust, as well as the importance of ecology and keeping wild animals wild. I'm so glad to see that George Adamson's work in wildlife conservation has continued, and Ace and John are involved in those efforts. Reading this book has also stirred my interest in checking out Born Free. I highly recommend A Lion Called Christian to all animal lovers, especially those who are interested in big cats and wildlife in general. It's definitely one that will be going on my keeper shelf.
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