Christian the Lion true story views: 63829
John Rendall (right) and Ace Bourke (left) carry Christian the Lion down King's Road in London, England. The reaction to us buying Christian, remembers Ace, was universally: 'You've both gone mad, and it's quite dangerous, and you're stupid, and it'll end in tears.
John and Ace bought Christian from Harrods department store in November 1969 for 250 guineas, the equivalent of $4,000 in today's money. Christian was 3 months old at the time, and came from a zoo in Devon, England. "Christian was just full of personality," says Ace, "and he was so irresistible. We just kind of looked at each other and said, 'Right, we're going to buy it!'"
Christian "On TV"
Christian the Lion explores his new home, a flat above Sophisticat furniture store on King's Road in London, England.
At the time, John and Ace worked at Sophisticat selling restored furniture. In addition to allowing Christian into their flat, the two persuaded the owners of Sophisticat to let Christian have the run of the shop's large basement. Christian Plays Hide and Seek
Christian the lion plays "hide and seek" in the basement below Sophisticat.
"There was some furniture down there that was going to be restored," recalls John, "so that he could climb on, or hide under, or creep around and play hide and seek with." Christian Plays the Bachelor
Christian the Lion in John and Ace's flat above Sophisticat.
John and Ace would soon realize that bringing up a lion in the middle of London was going to be a huge challenge. Christian Selects an Outfit
Christian the Lion discovers a drawer full of clothing in John and Ace's flat on the King's Road. Christian Shreds a Basket
Christian the Lion with one of his favorite toys: a waste paper basket.
"He loved toys," recalls John, "but he'd shred a teddy bear in 2 seconds flat. He loved waste paper baskets; you could chew it, shred it, wear it on your head..."
Even the cleaner who came in everyday had her cleaning apparatus treated like toys.
"He thought she was there just as kind of cabaret because she had dusters and mops and vacuum cleaners and things," says John. Christian at Sophisticat
John (left) and Ace (right) with Christian the Lion in the showroom at Sophisticat.
As Christian grew bigger, so did the challenges of raising an African lion in a city. Christian's Favorite Spot
Christian the Lion on his favorite spot on the stairs, joined by John and Ace.
At 6 months old Christian was already devouring 7 pounds of meat a day and proving to be very expensive! Christian Lunches with a Model
Christian the Lion eats lunch with a model in "Swinging London."
"It was an expense to keep him," remembers John, "so we thought, 'What can we do?' So we met a photographer called Derek Cattani, who was a friend of a friend, and he came along and started a record of Christian's life in London." Christian and Easter Chicks
Christian the Lion ponders Easter chicks in a photograph by Derek Cattani.
"So I said, 'Well let's get together a couple of feature ideas,'" remembers Derek. "And I said, 'Well Easter's coming up now, let's think about something to do with Easter and Easter chicks.'
"It was an amazing situation because we thought that a great big paw was going to come down on this poor little chick, y'know, but none of it. He was so gentle."
"I think we got 30 pounds for the photograph," remembers John, "which was very good."
So Christian was now helping to pay for his hefty meat bill, but he was growing up fast and urgently needed a place to exercise. Christian Plays Football
Christian the Lion tackles John during a friendly game of football.
Ace and John didn't know it, but Christian wasn't just playing games. Through play-fighting and chasing, he was developing the hunting skills a lion needs to survive in the wild.
Their playing field was a walled cemetery attached to a church in Chelsea. The church's minister was a great naturalist and recognized the young lion's need for a safe place to exercise.
Christian Fascinated by Child
Christian the Lion is fascinated by a young boy in London.
Christian had such a personality, recalls friends of Ace and John, that he was like another person..
Chrisitan at the Stylist
Christian the Lion was a popular fixture in London from 1969 to 1970. Here he gets his hair done by a stylist.
Christian was growing rapidly; at 8 months old he weighed 160 pounds. Ace and John realized that his size was becoming a problem.
"As he grew bigger, we worried about what would happen next," remembers Ace. "He was really capable of inflicting real damage."
"We knew that the time was coming when we had to accept that London was no longer going to be his home," says John. Christian on BBC Radio
The story of Christian the Lion was fascinating even back then. Here a BBC Radio reporter attempts to get a word out of Christian, but with no luck.
Ace and John knew that the bustling city of London was no place for a lion, but rejected offers from circuses and zoos, refusing to put the lion into captivity like his parents.
"We just knew we couldn't betray him by putting him in a zoo," remembers John. Christian Lucks Out
Christian the Lion with actors Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, stars of the 1960's box office hit "Born Free," which told the true story of an orphaned lion cub, Elsa, who was successfully released back into the wild.
Still passionate lion conservationists, Bill and Virginia happened to visit the King's Road furniture shop one day when they came face to face with Christian. Ace and John grabbed their chance and asked them if they would help return Christian to the wild. The actors agreed to help.
"It was the perfect solution," remembers Ace. "We were just thrilled. Anything to avoid a safer, longer life in confinement, in cages. So we didn't hesitate for a moment." Christian and the Gypsy Caravan
Christian the Lion emerges from the gypsy caravan where he lived with Ace and John while waiting to be sent to Africa.
The caravan was located inside a giant compound at the country estate of actors Virginia McKenna (far left) and Bill Travers (second to left).
Christian Wrestles with John
Christian the Lion wrestles with John at a country estate 30 miles outside of London, the closest the cub had ever been to the wild.
"Christian was obviously delighted when he moved to the country. It was a different environment and he loved his space there," remembers John. Christian the Wheelbarrow
Christian the Lion plays wheelbarrow at Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna's country estate.
"They were always trying to think of aways to keep him interested, that was to stimulate him so he didn't get fed up and bored," remembers Virginia McKenna.
John, Christian and Ace
John and Ace with Christian the Lion.
John and Ace knew that this would be the last time they would spend together with Christian, and they wanted to make the most out of every second. They quit their jobs at the furniture store and moved to the country with Christian. There, they waited for word from the Kenyan government as to whether or not Christian would be given an opportunity to live life in the wild. John Flosses Christian
John removes a twig from Christian's mouth.
While John and Ace waited for word from Kenya, Christian continued to grow. The longer they waited, the harder it was to keep Christian contained within the compound, and the likelier it seemed that the growing lion would end up in captivity. Christian the Lion
Christian the Lion at Leith Hill, his temporary home in the English countryside. Christian Heads to Africa
Christian the Lion at Heathrow Airport, about to board a plane for Africa.
After three months of negotiation, the Kenyan government approved the transfer of Christian the Lion from England to Africa.
"That was scary, seeing him loaded into the hold at Heathrow," says Ace.
"We weren't really sure if he'd survive the journey." "We gave him a very mild sedative," remembers John, "which was recommended by various vets and London zoos." Christian Arrives in Africa
Christian arrives in Nairobi, Kenya, a monumental moment for a young lion who had never been out of London. He's joined by Bill Travers, John and Ace, as well as legendary lion conservationist and biologist George Adamson (left).
"It was just a huge relief to see him on the other end," remembers Ace.
Whether or not Christian survived in the wild was down to George Adamson. A controversial figure, George's practice of returning orphaned lions to the wild was seen as a potentially risky endeavour as rehabilitated lions generally have no fear of humans. Christian's First Steps in Africa
Christian the Lion's first steps at Kora Nature Reserve, his new home in Africa. Ace and John keep an eye out for crocodiles.
"It must have been extraordinary for Christian to suddenly find himself in such a totally alien environment," remembers John. John, Ace and Christian
Christian the Lion with John and Ace at Kora Nature Reserve. Christian the Sleepy Lion
Christian the Lion keeps a watchful paw on John during his first night in Africa.
"The first night in Africa was a bit embarassing really," remembers John. "Well of course he slept on one of the beds, with a pillow!"
With John, Ace and photographer Derek Cattani there, as well as beds and pillows, Africa began to feel like a home away from home for Christian.
Christian Meets Boy
Christian the Lion meets Boy, an adult male. George Adamson's plans were to create a new lion pride with Christian, Boy and Katania, an orphaned lioness cub. They would be released into the wild together, but first they had to bond.
"He thought he was the only lion in the world," remembers Ace, "and it was a shock to meet one that was three times his size."
"The first time he saw Boy, you can imagine," says John, "(Boy) would keep charging at the wire to really scare Christian. And he was scared - and we were scared too, I can tell you!"
Christian Meets Katania
Christian with Katania, an orphaned lioness cub who together with Boy, an adult male, would form a pride.
The three lions became the closest of friends. Christian's Human Family
George Adamson, John Rendall and Ace Bourke with Christian the Lion.
By now, George Adamson's first Kora lion pride was finally taking shape. That meant there was no longer a role for Ace and John.
"We could see it was starting to work and we had to step back," remembers John. "The relationship we had with Christian we had to pass on to George." Christian in Africa
Christian the Lion getting the hang of it in Africa.
"It was sad to leave him," remembers John, "but there was a moment of, 'There you are. You're in the right place with the right man, and you've really got a chance." Christian in the Wild
Christian is returned to the wild, an amazing moment for a lion descended from five generations of captive zoo animals.
"The fact that we'd got him there and he would probably have a future there, it made our feelings... not irrelevant, but that was such a good feeling," remembers Ace.
Ace and John's life had centered on Christian for over a year, but now it was time to leave him.
Christian, Ace and John Meet Again
After being away for a year, Ace and John are reunited with Christian the Lion.
"We weren't sure of our reception this time," remembers Ace. "We thought anything could happen. It was very dangerous. It was the wilds of Africa." An Emotional Reunion
Christian the Lion embraces his old pals, Ace and John, in an emotional reunion. A Lion-Sized Embrace
"He was just so, so excited," remembers John. "and of course we were. Imagine how excited we were!" A Reunion of Old Friends
"It was just an incredible reunion," remembers Ace. "Whether we were human or he was an animal was sort of irrelevant." The Second Reunion
In 1972, John and Ace visited a now adolescent Christian for a second time, just one year after their now-famous first reunion.
"This time he was very different from the year before," remembers John. "He had matured considerably. He was much, much bigger. He was much more 'I'm grown up now.'" Christian Yawns
Christian yawns for Ace.
"George told us adolescence was the most dangerous time for lions," remembers Ace. "That was when he was most wary of them." The Second Reunion
John, Ace and Christian together for one of the last times in their lives.
"He'd be sitting with us and then he'd get up and walk away and sit somewhere else," remembers John. "It was like 'Now I've got lion things to do.'"
"We were undoubtedly more superfluous to his life," remembers Ace. A Regal Pose
Christian strikes a regal pose.
"He was so incredibly handsome," remembers Ace, "incredibly lovely. All lions loved him, all humans loved him. He was extraordinary. He'd lost none of his charisma." An Incredibly Handsome Christian
This was the last time Ace and John would see Christian the Lion.
"You think you will be back, you will hear news, it'll be a continuing story," remembers Ace. "In fact, it was the last time."
Christian was never seen at the Kora compound again. "He was no longer dependent on any of us," remembers John, "and that was the most wonderful success.
"He'd done it!"
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