Once upon a time, there were two fine young men from Australia, Ace Bourke and John Rendall, who landed in London on a day in 1969.
They lived above an antique pine furniture shop called Sophisticat. They also worked there. In a burst of energy for sightseeing, they visited Harrods for the very first time. They went to the zoo on the second floor and found themselves captivated by a lion cub in a cage with his sister.
They ended up striking a deal for the big cat with the department store. They named him Christian and made his home in the building’s basement. The animal soon became the happiest, grandest part of their lives. They went to the park together. They played on the beach.
Everything revolved around Christian. He was even potty-trained! A lion shitting in a litter box is something I can only imagine.
Ace and John loved Christian like a child. But he started growing too quickly.
Soon, his large, looming frame was overshadowing his environment. Even his mane started developing. Keeping him in London was becoming increasingly difficult. Thankfully, the boys got in touch with a man called George Adamson, a conservationist, who helped them take Christian back to where he truly belonged: into the wild.
Arrangements were made to transfer Christian to North Kenya, the home turf of several prides.
Initially, the one-year-old lion had a hard time adjusting in his new habitat. Other lions, protective of their territory, stayed hostile towards Christian as he learned to defend himself.
Needless to say, Ace and John missed Christian terribly and couldn’t wait to see him again. After giving the lion a year to settle in his new home, they travelled to Kenya.
George Adamson told the boys that Christian might have forgotten him by then. They went anyway. It was 1971.
When they finally came face-to-face, Christian first started approaching them slowly and cautiously, then suddenly broke into a run on recognising them!
That scene is an unforgettable one.
Christian gleefully pounced on Ace and John, hugging them repeatedly, standing on his hind legs, paws wrapped around their necks; such a wonderful miracle. Christian looked more like a puppy than a big wild cat. Just like Ace and John, he was overwhelmed too.
Their entire reunion has been documented. When it was first aired in 2002, it captivated the hearts of millions across the globe. Soon, it went viral. Even today, almost 5 decades later, everyone fondly remembers that video.
That event showed us how we all respond to love, no matter how different we are. Animals never forget. Christian’s absolute delight at being with his old caretakers again proved it. He even introduced Ace and John to two lionesses! Looks like Christian was doing just fine. Ha.
Eventually, the boys returned home but went right back in 1973! This time too, Adamson tried to discourage them to make the journey, as he hadn’t seen Christian’s pride in 9 months.
They refused to listen again. They went back and as fate would have it, Christian’s pride had returned to the lands a day before the boys reached!
By now, Christian was a pride leader and had babies of his own. He was almost twice as big as before. Once again, he greeted his masters the same way – by knocking them down and cuddling till the next morning.
That was last time anyone saw Christian. He disappeared from the area after that.
But his story of unconditional love for his masters stays with us. His loyalty is worth remembering. I'm sure Christian lived a good life with his new family, in his new home. As for Ace and John, this surely was an experience of a lifetime.
But words alone can't do justice to a such story. Here's the video of their incredible reunion. This is the ending of a documentary feature made on the same. Enjoy.