Christian, The Lion

By Robert James Taylor


Christian was born on August 12th 1969, in a zoo in Devon, one of three cubs, and he was acquired by the zoological dept. at Harrods in London. Two Australian ex-pats, namely John Rendall and Ace Bourke, noticed the three-month old cub and decided to purchase him with the intention of giving him a better future. After being interviewed by Harrods for their ‘eligibility,’ they took him to their Chelsea home. (Exotic pets were popular in London in the 60’s—laws now forbid the indulgence).

Christian spent the next few months with John and Ace, playing like a mischievous puppy dog. Outdoor exercise was made possible by a local Reverend who allowed the cub to have the run of a nearby cemetery. They all played together each day and the cub, became totally dependent on John and Ace, they never showed fear as he grew to over 150 pounds. Christian was gaining in size rapidly, eating three kilos of meat a day, and finding him a suitable home was becoming an urgent necessity. They did not want Christian to be in captivity, like his parents— another solution had to be found.  

A chance encounter unfolded that opened a huge possibility for Christian:  The husband and wife film stars Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, now famous for the movie Born Free, the story of Elsa the lioness, visited John and Ace at their home and took to Christian instantly. They were still very connected with George Adamson, who inspired the movie. Adamson was a legendary conservationist living in Kenya who was devoted to lions unable to fend for themselves. He agreed to receive Christian at Kora National Reserve provided the Kenyan government would authorize it.

After several anxious weeks of waiting, the Kenyan Government finally gave the required permission. Christian was on his way. Within days, he arrived in Africa with John and Ace. Adamson was at the airport to greet them. Christian’s future existence was now at a crucial stage: the transition from his former domesticity to the wild habitat of Africa was vital if he was to survive. Adamson conceived an idea: he would attempt the introduction of Christian to a mature male lion- named ‘Bob’- and a young female, thereby forming the nucleus of a new pride. It would be a tense moment. Christian would have to be accepted by Bob: the initial confrontation was uneasy but Christian sensibly lay on his back in submission.

In time Bob became mentor to Christian and he taught him the ways of nature. John and Ace, their mission accomplished, returned to London.  (Later that year Bob was attacked by rogue lions which turned him into an aggressive menace; one day he attacked Adamson’s assistant and killed him. Adamson had to shoot him.)

A year later John and Ace went back to Kenya in the hope of seeing Christian at the compound. Adamson warned them that Christian was wild now and might not recognise them, but the attempt was nevertheless made. Adamson, stood at the top of a hill with Christian by his side and John and Ace fifty meters below, nervously looking up at them. Christian walked slowly down the hill towards them; he stopped for a moment. They called out his name. Christian knew that sound. He ran towards them and what Adamson witnessed at that moment was a re-union beyond belief- the love between man and beast, had endured. Christian, standing on hind legs hugged them: Ace would say later “whether we were human and he was animal was irrelevant.” After several minutes Christian’s ‘wife’ joined in the embrace.

In June 1973 John and Ace made the second and final visit to Adamson’s compound knowing that the chances of even seeing Christian were very slim for he was now the head of his pride, outside the compound. They waited for days; and then, one day, there he was walking towards them, now twice the size from the year before. He was majestic in his prime, and he, with his lionesses, spent a day with his old friends. It was a moment of supreme triumph. The next day he was gone, back to his new domain. It was the “Call of the Wild”:  he was never seen again. Adamson counted the days Christian did not appear and on the 96th day he stopped counting.



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