Christian The Lion was a 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.
Christian with George Adamson
One year after 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.
Christian was originally acquired by Harrods from the now-defunct zoo park in Ilfracombe. Rendall and Bourke purchased Christian for 250 guineas(£3500 today).
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 Sophistocat—where living quarters in the basement were set aside for him. Rendall and Bourke obtained permission from a local vicar to exercise Christian at the Moravian church graveyard just off the King’s Road and Milman’s Street, SW10; 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 Bourke’s 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 Reserve. 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 feature film 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 original pride.
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 John and Ace 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 traveled 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 lionesses, 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 shoulders.
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 (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987) that after 97 days, he stopped counting.