There was a time not that very long ago in sunny England when you could buy a lion cub in Harrods for the very reasonable sum of 250 guineas.

Two young ex-pat Aussies, John Rendell and Ace Bourke, decided to give it a try and took one home as a pet to their furniture store in Chelsea’s Kings Road. It was 1969 and the world was a lot different than it is now.


The lion’s name was Christian and he came from a defunct zoo in Devon, in the south west of England. He had been born in captivity and was quite tame. He had a placid and gentle nature and took to sunning himself in the front window of their shop.

At night he slept in the basement with a litter tray, which he unfailingly used.

A local vicar allowed John and Ace to exercise him in a graveyard, and he became a local celebrity, traveling around London in the back of their Bentley and even featuring in an advertising campaign for a local fashion store. They did a roaring trade.


But after a year Christian had grown a mane and was the size of a … well, a fully grown lion. They couldn’t keep him much longer. And he cost a fortune to feed.

Then two actors, Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, happened to come into their shop. They had recently filmed Born Free, the story of a lioness raised in captivity and successfully reintroduced into the wild in Kenya.

John and Ace discussed their own lion problem with them, and they suggested they get in touch with conservationist George Adamson and his wife Joy, on whose work the film was based.

Perhaps George could help Christian begin a new life in the Kenyan bush?


So in 1972, accompanied by John and Ace, Christian was flown in a specially designed crate from London to Nairobi. They took a smaller plane to Adamson’s base at Kora.

They had to drive the last leg to Adamson’s camp in a Landrover. On the way Adamson had to stop to allow Christian to answer a call of nature. The lion hopped out, did what he had to do, and then jumped back in again.

Adamson was astonished.

They left Christian with Adamson, as planned, and two years later he wrote to them to say the lion had made a successful transition to life in the wild, and now had his own pride. They wrote back, saying said they would like to come and say goodbye one last time.


Adamson told them they were wasting their time. The lion was living wild now and besides, he had not been seen for nine months.

But the day before they flew in to Kora, he suddenly reappeared, with his females and cubs in tow.

The two Australians set off into the bush to look for him, taking cameras with them to film the reunion. As you see in the film, he starts moving towards them as soon as he sees them. He bounds the last ten paces.


It appears a moment of madness. After all, this is now a wild animal, 250 kilometres of lean muscle, one of nature’s finest killing machines. They are two unarmed humans venturing onto his territory, near his cubs.

What is he about to do? Does he really remember them?

See for yourself.

To find out more, visit here.

About colinfalconer

author of bestselling historical novels like Anastasia, When We Were Gods, Aztec and Harem. My books have been published in the UK, US and ANZ and translated into seventeen languages.
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  1. amyshojai says:

    I love the story of Christian! This is truly a Disney moment–I believe there’s a book about them now, too.

  2. Karla Darcy says:

    I’d seen this before but it never fails to touch your heart to realize how strong the bond of friendship is. Thank you for sharing.

  3. What can you say? This is freaking amazing! ALmost made me tear up.

  4. Made me cry. . . I had to send it to everyone I know. Thanks, Colin, for sharing.

    • Yep, it’s that kind of video. Apparently Christian stayed the night at their camp and the females weren’t too pleased when he came back next morning smelling of bourbon and cigarettes! True. The pride got very jealous.

  5. Karen McFarland says:

    Thank you Colin for the mention on our Facebook page. I wish I knew you were going to post this. I would have put a link on my post over to your site. 🙂 I really appreciate this story. It just shows the true nature of the wild beast. They don’t have to fear man. There exists a form of natural affection from deep within. This was very touching! 🙂

  6. Awesome. I guess that just goes to show that a lion never forgets anyone with that much hair!


  7. Oh I love this! There is another video…shorter than this one…so this is my new favorite. It always makes me cry…while smiling ear-to-ear at the end. Makes me want a lion of my own. 🙂

  8. I really think humans don’t give animals enough credit. We had to find a new home for our Irish Setter. One day, several years after saying goodbye to Brandy, we came across a dog completely by accident at a strangers house we had to go visit (I was young so the details are fuzzy). My mom was talking to the lady with whom she had business, and kept staring at the lady’s beautiful Irish Setter. My mom finally said something like “That dog looks just like a dog we used to have named Brandy.” Brandy went nuts at hearing her name, jumped all over my mom and it was an amazing reunion. I loved the video. Thanks. 🙂

    • Great story! You’re right, Lara, in my experience also the term ‘dumb animal’ doesn’t apply. (Though I have met a few ‘dumb humans’). My dog always used to know when it was time for her bath, no matter how quiet we were about getting the shampoo out and towels out. No matter how sneaky we were, switching days etc she always knew in advance and suddenly she’d disappear. Amazing. I have no idea how she knew unless she was a mind reader. …???

  9. Wonderful video, Colin, I tear up every time I see it.

  10. I hope you’re happy that I cried while I was watching the entire video. 😉 This is one of the most touching stories ever. I had heard of Christian before, but I never knew the truth of how truly extraordinary he was. I hope you don’t mind if I share this video in my Cat Thursday post this coming week.

    • Of course, Michelle. The video’s been around a while, I wasn’t sure how many of you had seen it … the short version doesn’t compare with this one when you actually see him as a cub and travelling around London looking out of the Bentley’s window. Incredible!

  11. Hey there Colin, it’s been a while since I’ve made it here, but this is one moving post and piece of footage. Animals are so much smarter and more loving than we think they are…

  12. Debra Kristi says:

    This story has always touched my heart and speaks volumes about the animals emotional attachments. There is so much we don’t understand. This is one of the most beautiful and touching moments I have ever seen. Thank you for sharing it with us.

    • I wasn’t sure how many people had already seen it it … so if you hadn’t I’m rapt I put it up. It was Karen McFarland who reminded me of it with her two wildlife posts last week.

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