Christian the Lion

Video clip shows the reunion of two men with a lion they had raised as a cub.

Claim:   Video clip shows the reunion of two men with Christian, a lion they had raised as a cub.

Status:   True.

Example:   [Collected on the Internet, June 2008]

I’ll bet you’ve never seen a pet like the one in this Video of the Day. In 1969, two friends, John Rendall and Ace Berg, purchased a lion. At the time, Christian the lion was a 35-pound cub. He had been born in a zoo. The friends raised Christian in their London home. All three hung out in a friend’s furniture shop on the weekends.

Within a year, Christian had grown to 185 lbs. Rendall and Berg realized they couldn’t keep him much longer. But they didn’t know what to do with him. A chance encounter changed that. Two actors from the film Born Free walked into the furniture store.

The actors recommended a conservationist, George Adamson, living in Kenya. Christian was soon in Africa. There he was rehabilitated and released into the wild.

In 1974, Rendall and Berg decided to visit Christian one last time. He was now a wild animal. Adamson told them it was doubtful that Christian could be found. No one had seen him in nine months.

The two flew to Kenya, anyway. On the day they landed, Christian appeared outside Adamson’s camp. Somehow, he knew. He waited outside the camp until Rendall and Berg arrived.

This video was taken during their reunion with Christian. What a story! What a video!

Origins:   In 1969, Australian John Rendall and his friend Ace Bourke (whose surname is often rendered as “Berg”), both of whom were then living in London, bought a lion cub named Christian from Harrods department store, as the former recounted for the Daily Mail in 2007:

“A friend had been to the ‘exotic animals’ department at Harrods and announced, rather grandly, that she wanted a camel,” says Rendall.”To which the manager very coolly replied: ‘One hump or two, madam?’

“Ace and I thought this was the most sophisticated repartee we’d ever heard, so we went along to check it out — and there, in a small cage, was a gorgeous little lion cub. We were shocked. We looked at each other and said something’s got to be done about that.”

Harrods, it turned out, was also quite keen to be rid of Christian, who had escaped one night, sneaked into the neighbouring carpet department — then in the throes of a sale of goatskin rugs — and wreaked havoc.

The store, which had acquired the cub from Ilfracombe zoo, happily agreed to part with him for 250 guineas. So began Christian’s year as an urban lion.

For the next year the two men (along with Rendall’s girl friend and an actress) raised the cub in the Sophistocat furniture shop, where Christian had living quarters in the basement, and the lion became a popular local figure. However, when Christian grew from his initial 35 lb. to 185 lb. within a

year, his keepers realized their lion would need to be relocated to a more suitable environment.

By chance, one day Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna — the stars of the 1966 film Born Free — wandered into Sophistocat looking for a desk. The actors suggested that conservationist George Adamson (whose wife, Joy, wrote the book Born Free about their real-life experiences in raising a lion cub and rehabilitating it into the wild)
might be able to help find an appropriate home for Christian.

Rendall and Berg flew with Christian to Nairobi, Kenya, where they met up with George Adamson, who helped the lion settle into living an independent life (and integrating into a pride with other lions) in Kenya’s Kora Reserve. The video clip linked above shows scenes from the two men’s reunion with Christian in 1971.

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John Rendall and Ace Berg continued to make sporadic visits to Kenya, but mostly they followed Christian’s adventures from afar.Finally, in 1974, George Adamson wrote to say that the pride was self-sufficient. Christian was defending it. There was a litter of cubs. They were feeding themselves and rarely returned to camp.

The King’s Road lion had finally adapted to the wild.

This was a bittersweet moment for all concerned. Rendall and Ace decided to travel to Kora one last time, in the hope of being able to say goodbye,

though Adamson warned them that it would almost certainly be a wasted mission.

“Christian hasn’t been here for nine months. We have no reason to think he’s dead — there have been no reports of lions poached or killed. But he may never come back,” he said.

Rendall recalls, “We said: ‘OK. We appreciate that, but we’ll come anyway and see you.'”

They flew to Nairobi then took a small plane to the camp in Kora, where Adamson came out to meet them.

“Christian arrived last night,” he said simply. “He’s here with his lionesses and his cubs. He’s outside the camp on his favourite rock. He’s waiting for you.”

Adamson and his wife Joy often talked about the mysterious, apparently telepathic communication skills of lions — particularly between lions and men.

Both believed that lions were possessed of a sixth sense and George was convinced that a scientific explanation would one day be found.

And here, it seemed, was the proof.

“Christian stared at us in a very intense way,” says Rendall. “I knew his expressions and I could see he was interested. 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.

“Everyone was crying. We were crying, George was crying, even the lion was nearly crying.”

Unfortunately, that reunion was the last anyone saw of Christian, and fourteen years later, Christian’s protector, George Adamson, was ambushed and killed by bandits. In his autobiography, Adamson wrote of Kenya: ”Promises of solitude, of wild animals in a profusion to delight the heart of Noah, and of the spice of danger, were always honored. Today, of these three, you are only likely to encounter the danger.”
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Last updated:   7 July 2008


  Sources Sources:

    Moore, Victoria.   “Christian, the Lion who Lived in My London Living Room.”
    The Daily Mail.   4 May 2007.
    Perlez, Jane.   “George Adamson, Lions’ Protector, Is Shot Dead by Bandits in Kenya.”
    The New York Times.   22 August 1989.