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Old 07-21-2008, 09:01 PM   #1
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Christian the Lion - amazing story

Christian, the lion who lived in my London living room
Last updated at 23:24 04 May 2007

He travelled by Bentley, ate in fine London restaurants and spent his days lounging in a furniture shop. The story of Christian the pet lion - and his eventual release into the wild - is as moving as it is incredible.

The furniture shop was on the King's Road in London. It sold tables, wardrobes, chairs and desks - but anybody peering through its plate-glass window on a Sunday might have noticed something rather more unusual.

Amid all the pine and oak, stretched out languidly on a bench, there was a lion. And it wasn't stuffed.

"Christian used to lie beside me while I did the accounts at weekends," remembers Jennifer Mary Taylor, who worked there.

"And every so often, if I'd ignored him for too long, he'd sock me across the head with one of his great big paws.

"He was very loving and affectionate - he liked to stand and put his paws on your shoulders. But he was...", she pauses. "I mean, he was a lion. Does that sound silly?"

Christian the lion (named by someone with a Biblical sense of humour) arrived in

Chelsea at a time when the King's Road - home to Mick Jagger - was the very heart of the Swinging Sixties.

For a year, the Big Cat was part of it all, cruising the streets in the back of a Bentley, popping in for lunch at Casserole, a local restaurant, even posing for a Biba fashion advert.

He eventually grew too big to be kept as a pet and was taken to Kenya, where he was rehabilitated into the wild by the 'Lion Man', George Adamson.

Now, his story is to be told in a new book, written by the Australian John Rendall who, along with his friend Ace Berg, bought Christian from Harrods in 1969.

So what possessed them to buy a lion cub in the first place?

"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.

Today, it would be unthinkable for a shop to take such a cavalier attitude towards selling exotic animals (though Harrods did, at least, provide Ace and Rendall with diet sheets).

And it is hard to imagine either the animal rights lobby or any local council condoning a shop as a suitable habitat for a lion. But, back then, no one minded at all.

Christian was given his own living quarters (and a very large kitty-litter tray, which he used unfailingly) in the basement of the appropriately named Sophistocat furniture shop.

"He had a beautiful musky smell that was very distinct," says Rendall. "But he was clean."

The vicar of the Moravian Chapel nearby was approached to allow Christian the run of the graveyard, and every day he was taken there to roar around and play football.

Once, when he was brought along to a seaside picnic, he dipped his toes reluctantly in the water and intimated with a shudder that it was disagreeably cold. But he was eventually persuaded to swim in the English Channel.

"He was a lot of work," says Rendall. "It took all four of us - me, my then girlfriend Jennifer Mary, Ace Berg and an actress called Unity Jones - to look after him.

"He also ate a lot, four meals (two liquid, two solid) plus supplements every day, which cost about £30 a week - a lot of money back then."

He pauses, then adds, "And he had a very good sense of humour."


"Oh yes. Sometimes, he'd see people staring at him through the back window of the car, keep very still on purpose - and then, just when they were convinced he was a stuffed toy, he would very slowly turn his head and freak them out."

Everyone loved Christian and he became a popular local figure. In 1970, when Chelsea beat Leeds in the FA Cup Final, Sophistocat received a call from a policeman, 'The football fans are going to be boisterous, so you'd better get your bloody lion out of the window or they'll smash it in,' he warned.

Christian himself was beautifully behaved, and though he never hurt anyone, you underestimated his strength at your peril.

Jennifer Mary remembers taking a friend to see him, "after I'd had one or two glasses of wine -and when he put his paws on my shoulders, one of them slipped, his claw caught my dress and he pulled the whole front of it off."

He grew and grew - from 35lb when he first arrived to a rather more serious and imposing 185lb a year later - and he was beginning to acquire a mane that made him look more fearsome.

He clearly could not stay with his two young owners for ever.

His future was decided by a chance encounter - when the actors Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna walked into the shop to buy a pine desk.

They had recently starred in the film Born Free, which tells the true story of the wildlife conservationist George Adamson and his wife Joy, who raised a lion cub called Elsa in Kenya then rehabilitated it into the wild.

And they immediately suggested that Adamson might be able to help.

Certainly, the conservationist was intrigued by the challenge of introducing a King's Road lion to the wilds of Africa.

"But," he warned, '"ou must be prepared for this not to work. Elsa was born in Africa and she knew its smells. Taking a British-born lion, whose parents were also raised in captivity, is going to be a very different thing."

Christian was flown to Kenya in a specially-made crate emblazoned with the words, 'East African Airways. London-Nairobi. Christian - male lion, 12 months'. John and Ace went with him.

"I think George Adamson got quite a shock when he met us," says Rendall. "Straight from the King's Road, in all our gear - flares from Granny Takes A Trip, and with hair everywhere.

"We looked rather different from everyone else in Nairobi. But then so did Christian. He'd come from winter in England, so had a very thick coat - he was almost as hairy as we were."

Adamson wanted to drive straight to the Kora Reserve, close to the Tana river, where there was no human habitation. This, he felt, would be the ideal spot to build a camp.

Because lions live and hunt in prides, and it is hard to impose a new male on an existing one, the plan was to introduce Christian into the wild in tandem with Boy, one of the tame beasts who had starred in Born Free.

Together, they would form the nucleus of a new pride - and the whole project would be funded by a TV programme.

Christian was marshalled into the back of a Land Rover, with straw on the floor and chicken-wire separating him from his friends on the front seat. It was all rather confusing for a lion accustomed to the butter-soft leather of a Bentley. And he was hot. And dusty. And confused.

Not long into the journey, Rendall ventured, "Mr Adamson, he needs to go to the loo."

Adamson was impatient.

"We're miles from anywhere. If we stop here and he runs away, we will never, ever catch him."

"Mr Adamson," promised Rendall, "that is not going to happen."

The great Lion Man turned his head, sucked on his pipe and pulled over on the dirt road.

Rendall opened the back of the car, and Christian jumped out to take his first real steps on African soil.

To his evident disgust, it was prickly and hot. He clearly didn't like it one bit.

Rendall picks up the story, "So he went tip-toeing along and went to the loo.

Considerably. Then he looked around and I said, 'OK, come on, back in,' pointed back at the car - and in he jumped.

"I got back in the car, too, shut the door and George Adamson turned round and said to me, 'That is quite remarkable. You may call me George.'"

Kora, an area that now has National Park status, lies about 220 miles to the north-east of Nairobi. The scenery is rugged - densely packed with knotty thorn bushes, with just a narrow corridor of greenery that follows the course of the Tana river.

And so Christian arrived at the camp, which Adamson's brother had built from macuti - palm fronds - chicken-wire and mud.

The conservationist went off again and returned a couple of days later with Boy, the lion from Born Free.

At that time, Boy was very fragile, as his shoulder had been shattered in a nasty encounter with a buffalo. But he was the first fully-grown lion that Christian had seen since leaving Ilfracombe zoo as a cub.

The first meeting was explosive. Normal lion protocol dictates that the younger male should be subservient to the dominant male.

But Christian, more schooled in Sloane than feline etiquette, sashayed fearlessly towards Boy.

Fortunately, Christian and Boy, though in adjacent compounds, were separated by a wire fence. In fury at the perceived slight, Boy flung himself against it - until Christian, suddenly realising his faux pas, slunk away with his belly close to the ground.

This process was repeated over and over again until Adamson felt confident enough to allow the pair to meet without the safety barrier of the fence.

"First, Boy left his compound," recalls Rendall. "Then Christian went out to meet him.

"Boy took one look - and he clobbered him. Christian didn't fight back. He rolled over on his back. That went on for day after day, until Boy was obviously satisfied that Christian knew who was boss - and they became totally inseparable."

Adamson had also acquired a female lion cub, Katania, to add to the pride, and she seemed to act as an intermediary between the two males.

Each day, the three lions would go out for a walk in the bush, Boy first, Katania in the middle, then Christian - with Adamson, carrying a rifle in case he needed to scare anything off, at the rear.

For Christian, there were some tricky moments, such as the time he spied a rhino and tried to stalk it, only for the beast to hurl him through the air in a cloud of dust.

"I saw Boy turn and look at Christian," says Rendall. "There was a look on his face, as if to say: 'You absolute fool. What a howler of a blunder.'"

Slowly, progress was made. The biggest threat to Christian and Boy were the wild lions that stalked the reserve, which Boy was fighting to establish as his territory.

Then, one day, there was a tragedy that caused the whole project to be called into question. A chef called Stanley had left the safety of the compound to look for wild honey. He hadn't realised Boy was nearby, and when he saw him, he tried to flee.

Running away was the worst action he could have taken. Adamson, hearing Stanley's screams, came running and shot Boy through the heart - but it was too late. Stanley had been bitten through the jugular and died an hour later.

The outcry that followed almost brought the lion project to a halt, but Adamson found some support for his work among other conservationists, dug in his heels and carried on.

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."

"The lionesses were far from pleased. There was a lot of growling and spitting," continues Rendall.

"'George said: 'This isn't safe - we'd better go.' So we each put a hand on Christian's back and he walked with us back to camp."

The reunion party went on all night and into the morning. Leaving his exhausted companions to go to their beds, Christian returned to his pride.

"We watched him go back to the two lionesses, who were not at all happy with this man, smelling of nicotine, whisky and humans," says Rendall.

"He just walloped the two of them with his paw, then collapsed."

And that was the last anyone ever saw of him.

For the next 14 years, George Adamson remained at Kora, rehabilitating several other lions and ignoring warnings from the authorities, who did not consider it safe for him to stay.

Then, in 1989, he was ambushed and murdered by bandits.

He died with a gun in his hand and, in accordance with his wishes, was buried at Kora.

Following his death, his supporters formed the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust, which now does work in Kora as well as in Tanzania, where it is reintroducing the endangered black rhino and hunting dog.

The trust's chief aim is keep alive Adamson's dream of a place where animals can roam free - a fitting epitaph not just for the great conservationist but also for the lion who once lived in Chelsea.


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Old 07-21-2008, 09:11 PM   #2
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I held my breath the whole video waiting for the lion to bite their face.

I'm a cynic.

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Old 07-21-2008, 09:14 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by Dalton View Post
I held my breath the whole video waiting for the lion to bite their face.

I'm a cynic.
I was surprised too.
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Old 07-22-2008, 09:06 AM   #4
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I saw that on The View yesterday while I was waiting for an appointment. I think it's awesome. I didn't see them talk about the sad parts though..

Nice to see you back here trevster
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Old 07-22-2008, 09:40 AM   #5
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That was amazingly beautiful. I had a lump in my throat.

It's sad though I didn't know what had happened to Adamson. I must have seen that movie a dozen times when I was little and cried each time.
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Old 07-22-2008, 11:34 AM   #6
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I saw this video once before.. so amazing.
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Old 07-22-2008, 11:36 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by JCOSTER View Post
That was amazingly beautiful. I had a lump in my throat.

It's sad though I didn't know what had happened to Adamson. I must have seen that movie a dozen times when I was little and cried each time.
I read the story, got about 45 seconds into the video clip, and was bawling my eyes out. I think I'm PMSing.

That was incredibly touching.

Last night they loved you
Opening doors and pulling some strings, angel

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Old 07-22-2008, 01:44 PM   #8
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I can't understand why I have never seen this story before. I love nature stuff and somehow I was unaware of this remarkable relationship.

Umm, yeah, I only heard about this from the View too, I wasn't watching it, my sister told me about it, seriously, I wasn't watching it.

And in the spirit of the video, to Interferencers.
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Old 07-22-2008, 01:55 PM   #9
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I love this story! I've been sent the video several times in the past few days. I totally bawled too.
Insert something interesting here
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Old 07-22-2008, 02:14 PM   #10
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I totally bawled aswell. I do love this story though, its amazing that Christian remembered them.

6 countries,11 shows. AMAZING FRIENDS AND MEMORIES = Jem's priceless 360 Tour
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Old 07-22-2008, 02:24 PM   #11
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That is a beautiful story.

I don't even know what to say, really.
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Old 07-22-2008, 02:24 PM   #12
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Friggin' awesome!

About 4 years ago, my sister called me after cutting off all ties with all family 18 years before. I think I'll send her the link to this video. *sniff*
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Old 07-25-2008, 06:16 AM   #13
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I've watched that video on youtube about 20 times today and cried every time.

So so beautiful.

Why has this suddenly reappeared though?

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