Could it be possible that the kingdom Animalia hold more secrets than we thought it contained? What if animals possessed the power of reason to a level, more than what the human intellect had attributed to them till now? The documentary Christian, the Lion at World’s End/ Christian the Lion, set me thinking about how little one still knows about animals. It is not a scientists or a researcher’s account of an aberration observed in a wild animal’s usual behaviour, but is rather a warm household account of two men in the 1970’s and their experiences with a baby lion.
I was first drawn to the documentary when in the process of changing channels on the television I chanced upon a footage on animal planet which at that precise moment showed a huge lion throwing its humungous weight onto two young men standing and dressed like hippies from the 1970’s. What intrigued me was the fact that the video was neither shot in the confines of a cage nor did it hint at the location resembling anything remotely circus like. Curiously it gave the feeling that the lion and the men were in the open, and not just anywhere but in the “African Wild.”
The next shot was of an old frail looking man being interviewed in the comforts of a London home. Mr. John Rendall said that when they first bought Christian from the famous Harrod’s department store, the shop keeper was all the more relieved to have a mischievous lion cub taken off his hands. Rendall then goes on to describe animatedly their stay in London back in the 1970’s, with the feline as their pet cat.
Christian with Ace and John
Christian with Ace and John
This was all the introduction that I had needed and I sat stead fast through the rest of the documentary. John Rendall and Anthony Ace Bourke were travelling Australian friends who when in London happened to make an impulsive purchase from Harrod’s department store at Chelsea. Out of the odd assortment of artefacts in the store they had eyes only for a week old Lion cub. They never thought twice to christen it Christian. May be trying to pull the legs of the biblical belief of Christians being thrown to the lions as punishment. They brought up the cub in the basement of their furniture workshop incidentally named Sophosticat. Acquiring permission from a nearby church, Christian had his daily exercises and courtesy calls with local residents at the church yard. The Lion cub soon grew up to believe it was people and a popular personality among people too. But as time passed John and Ace found it difficult to manage a rapidly growing bag of razor sharp tooth and not to mention its maintenance costs. As fate would have it an accidental visit of Virginia Mckenna and Bill Travers of the Born Free fame helped them to get in contact with renowned conservationist and biological researcher George Adamson and his wife Joy Adamson from the Kora National Reserve in Kenya.
The Adamsons were successful in rehabilitating the Lioness Elsa into the wild. They agreed to look into Christian’s matter too. No sooner Ace and John flew Christian to Kenya. Christian’s initial years at Kora has been systematically videotaped. The documentary vividly shows how in trying to create the nucleus of a new pride Christian was introduced to an older male Lion ‘Boy’ and another female. He is apprehensive and defensive at first, but soon his lion instincts get the better of his domesticated London ways and he jams right in with the other wild cats. But the untimely death of Boy leaves him estranged as Ace and John leave him in the care of George and return to London.
The following year in 1972 they flew back to meet their feline friend. Though George warns them and suggests the possibility of Christian having forgotten them, since a year had passed with Christian having not seen them, the documentary bears evidence to something else.
Atop a hill Christian catches sight of the two men. He halts, standing still. We get the distinct feeling that the creature is raking its memory to solidify wisps of long gone events from its childhood. Though apprehensive at first he soon picks up pace and charging towards them, pounces onto the shoulders of the two men. He has recognised them. Standing on his hind paws, Christian licks up every inch of their face and playfully shoves his humungous weight onto his masters.
I was moved beyond anything. It had so much of an emotional appeal that I couldn’t do without writing about it. What is most interesting is that neither was this creature ailing from some sort of a Cancer nor was it at its wits ends, to have so rapturously held my attention. More over taking cue from Christian, Lisa and Mona, two entirely wild Lionesses and a cub named Super Cub, acts as if they too had been in the caring of Ace and John, all these years. They nudge and twitch their slender tails around the two men in ardent embrace. I believe it is the extra ordinary relationship between the Lion and the two men that sets you in silent contemplation. You sit with bated breath, watching the Lion speeding towards the duo and the next moment you are filled with awe having witnessed a remarkable reunion just as Mckkenna narrates, “They sit together just to enjoy friendship without the formalities of tiresome words.” It is truly beyond any verbal articulation and you feel sorry for the three having lost a year in-between their friendship.
This remarkable story came to the limelight when a five minute video of the reunion was posted on the social networking site You tube. It was an instant hit and went on to be viewed by millions. It even premiered on the Oprah Winfrey show. The astounding complete story behind the documentary came to be known to the world through the interviews of the two owners and their experiences with the Lion. It is a must watch for all nature lovers, for the message of an imminent need to boost conservation of wildlife pervades through the whole documentary. Ever more is the bonding between nature and Man. Just as Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson said, “It reminds us that love can transcend bounds.”