* Prices may differ from that shown
This book is a real tear-jerker, especially if you have watched the You Tube footage of this story & the big reunion - which, if you haven't already, I urge you to do!
It is the true story of two amazing guys, Anthony 'Ace' Bourke and John Rendall who came to visit London from Australia in 1969 and discovered a lion cub for sale in Harrods (it seems that back in those days unfortunately you really could buy anything in there). Taking pity on the little fellow they decided to buy him and look after him themselves. These two guys, despite their total lack of knowledge or experience of how to look after a lion, managed to give this little lion cub the best possible life they could, giving him love and affection, space to grow and run and doing everything they could to ensure he did not end up in a zoo. Whilst he was in their care they worked in a furniture shop where he was able to roam freely - until such a point that he just got too big - and this makes for some hilarious stories. The love, care and consideration that these two men showed for Christian is truly heartwearming.
Following various ups and downs Christian of course became far too big and too much of a handful to be any sort of pet any more and Anthony & John took the decision to relinquish him to the care of George Adamson, another fantastic human being who ran a huge sanctuary in Kenya.
From what started out as a life promising nothing but captivity and boredom, this wonderful tale sees Christian experience real human kindness and blossom into a beautifulcreature who is eventually allowed to live free, as he should. It is packed with lovely pictures and amusing tales, the most touching of which is that when Anthony & John go to see how Christian is getting on in Kenya. I don't think I've ever cried so much with joy as when I watched that You Tube clip! Maybe I am just soft, but this is sure to pull at your heart strings and really restores a little faith in humanity.
I absolutely adore beautiful cats whether they are wild or the domesticated type and whilst reading a magazine last year I came across an interesting article that caught my eager eye. It discussed "A Lion Called Christian" that led me to the You Tube video, which showed the remarkable bond between man and animal. I mentioned the video to my sister and was delighted to open a beautifully wrapped parcel on Christmas Day, which contained the 187 page paperback book and this review discusses my thoughts on this fascinating and heart warming tale.
~~ Who is a Lion Called Christian? ~~
During the latter part of 1969 Harrods, the Kightsbridge department store purchased two lion cubs from a litter of four from a small zoo in Devon. Two Australians, namely Anthony Burke and John Rendall who were visiting London, fell in love with the irresistible male and as a result, made the decision to purchase him for the sum of two hundred and fifty guineas as they did not want him being shipped off to a zoo. The book, which is the number 1 international best seller, was written by both Burke (known as Ace) and Rendall as they discuss their experience from initially purchasing the lion, who they named Christian and their journey to Africa when he was introduced to the wild. The book was first published in 1971 and expanded and updated in 2009, which is the edition I am reviewing.
~~ A Lion Called Christian ~~
I knew that I was going to absolutely love this book the moment I clapped eyes on the front cover where we see a colourful image of Ace and John positioned either side of a stunning looking Christian. There are obviously a couple of different covers available as mine differs from the one as shown in the image I provided to Dooyoo. The book begins with a Foreward by George Adamson, who was a Wildlife Conservationist and author who shot to fame through the movie and subsequent book named Born Free. George played a huge part in rehabilitating young Christian to the wild. The book is set out in fifteen easy to read chapters where we are initially taken to the pet department in Harrods where Ace and Rendall make their decision to purchase Christian.
I found myself warming to the two men almost immediately, as despite making such an impulsive decision to purchase the lion cub their intentions were to offer him a better life and future. Despite not knowing the first thing about the level of care Christian needed, the two men arranged an interview with the buyer of Harrods to prove that they would be responsible owners. It was rather difficult concept for me to grasp that back in the sixties anyone could simply walk into Harrods, pass a vetting process, part with a large sum of cash and walk out with an exotic animal. The guys had three weeks before they would be able to collect Christian and we learn of the changes that they needed to quickly make to their lives with the most important being a home for Christian, as unfortunately, their upstairs flat located above a shop would be totally unsuitable. Despite the guys placing various adverts in the local papers for accommodation for them all they were unsuccessful and the owner of the shop below their flat, quite ironically named Sophisticat, which sold antique pine furniture, offered Christian the warm, comfortable and spacious basement.
As I absolutely adore cats and have owned four of the domestic type I felt inspired at the sheer dedication and devotion of Ace and John as they really did not know what they were taking on, but they carefully prepared themselves for the huge challenge. Whilst I was fully aware of how their journey would end I had grave concerns about how it was possible to care for a wild animal that would clearly become domesticated and then be able to teach him the necessary hunting skills required following his rehabilitation to the wild. It was on 15 December 1969 that the guys received a phone call from Harrods to advise them that they could collect four month old Christian, who was now two feet long and weighing thirty pounds. I felt quite envious reading this book as one of my lifetime ambitions has been to care for wild animals and it was hilarious to read the antics that followed, particularly having been a cat owner for so long. Whilst litter training a lion seems a rather strange task it was entertaining to learn that Ace and John had huge trays on which they would have to place Christian each time he wanted to relieve himself; a task that I found problematic with a kitten let alone a two foot lion cub!
The guys soon settled Christian into a routine with feeding him a mixture of baby food, raw meat, raw egg and bone meal and despite them having previously known nothing about looking after a lion cub they had carried out extensive research to ensure they were doing things right. Their dedication was so heart warming as I read of their loving relationship with Christian as they began to closely bond. As any cat lover would know, kittens are very playful and extremely mischievous and Christian was no exception. I became a little concerned when I read of his constant attention seeking where he needed to be close to Ace and John and insisted on sitting on their laps and I found this quite heartbreaking as their bond was so tender and loving, but of course, he would eventually be released into the wild. I could totally relates to Christian's characteristics as his frolics were so similar to that of the cats I've owned who would love climbing on furniture and then pouncing when I least expected it! Ace and John regularly walked Christian in a nearby neighbour's garden, but over time his strength exceeded theirs and playtime would often become a little aggressive, as Christian's natural instincts were starting to kick in. Christian soon became a star as customers flocked to Sophisticat to catch a glimpse of him and he relished in his fame. I love the fact that every twenty or so pages there are several inserts of a mixture of black and white and colour photographs where we are able to witness Christian in his full glory.
I knew there was going to be trouble accommodating Christian in an antique pine furniture shop, particularly as cats need to sharpen their claws and as the lion was allowed into the shop itself disaster was soon to strike. Of course, being mischievous Christian chose an expensive table to undertake his task and Ace and John took on the role of teaching him how to develop more control of his claws, which they successfully achieved. Despite being housed in the basement, Christian was rarely alone as there was always somebody visiting and playing with them and most of the time he was very gentle. Whilst I adore cats I am not sure if this is a task I would have been prepared to undertake, particularly as he was growing so quickly and was becoming stronger. I felt rather sad when only four months after his move to Sophisticat Christian became bored and his surroundings were no longer suitable for him. James Hill, the Director of Born Free became aware of their predicament and subsequently contacted George Adamson who agreed to rehabilitate Christian to the wild in Africa with the entire process being filmed for a documentary. I felt the heartbreak for the guys as despite knowing that Christian would be housed in his natural habitat their bond was so strong and the thoughts of letting go must have been overwhelming.
I had no idea of the lifespan of a lion and was interested to know that in zoos they can live up to twenty years, but they survival rate is up to twelve years in the wild due to territorial battles they will face. After several months of negotiations and planning Christian was found a suitable home in Kora, Africa and despite him escaping his life of captivity in the United Kingdom I felt saddened that he would now be fending for himself, particularly as he had not really developed any hunting skills. The eleven hour flight to Nairobi with Christian inside a crate was a worrying time, as it was unclear if he would survive, but care and consideration was given as Ace and John made numerous telephone calls to ascertain the safest method of transportation. Thankfully, Christian survived his ordeal and it was at the airport they met George Adamson, so the journey to Christian's new home in Kora was to begin and was met with much interest by intrigued onlookers. The way Ace and John describe the journey almost whisked me to where they were as they discuss the wildlife they saw on the way and the country being so barren.
Their destination was well prepared for them where they found comfortable tents, camp beds and hot showers. The loving bond between the guys and Christian had transferred to Africa where the lion insisted on sleeping on their beds; a situation I could well relate to when I owned my cats! The expertise of George Adamson was now paramount to Christian's future and over a period of time he was introduced to a female lion cub named Katania and a dominant male named Boy. There were a number of scary moments as Christian was invading their territory, but despite having been domesticated for four months, his skills were clearly noticeable and he began to roar although it was a little lame at first. I felt quite anxious reading at this point as I didn't want Christian to become injured and I felt saddened that his once soft and smooth paw pads were now becoming accustomed to his surroundings and were beginning to roughen. The rehabilitation period took a considerable time and I found the knowledge and experience of George Adamson extraordinary as he clearly possessed a special gift and the patience of a saint.
It seemed strange to one minute be reading of Christian's hunting instincts and the next to read about him nuzzling up to Ace, John or George. I feared that his rehabilitation would be difficult, particularly due to his close bond with Ace and John and that he would pine for them once they left. The guys visited Joy Adamson, the wife of George, during their stay in Africa and whilst I knew a little about her, I was rather shocked to learn of her reputation for falling out with people. Despite her love of lions the book discusses her sofas that were upholstered in lion skins, which absolutely horrified me, but it is claimed when questioned her response was "there are good lions and there are bad lions". I found this very difficult to comprehend and my opinion of her considerably changed. My opinion of George is the total opposite and his passion for lions is overwhelming and had stemmed from his early works with the Department of Wildlife in Kenya where he was employed as a game warden. It was soon time for Ace and John to leave and this is when my tears flowed, particularly as I had really connected with them whilst reading the book and I felt their pain as they walked away from Christian. George was to remain near to Christian and monitor his progress and would regularly write to Ace and John. Over time, Christian become stronger and learned all of the necessary skills to survive in the wild.
I found this book so heart warming and easy to read with its reasonable sized text and I found myself becoming totally lost within the pages where I was whisked away and shared the remarkable experience. It is so wonderful to think that Ace and John dedicated a huge part of their lives to prevent a lion from spending his life in captivity and their sheer dedication shines through. They never gave up despite the obstacles that were thrown in their path and I admire them for their loving devotion to Christian. As you have guessed, I was captivated by this book and it comes with my full recommendation.
The book is available in paperback version and can be obtained from Amazon for £6.38 inclusive of postage and packing.
Written by Anthony Burke and John Rendall
Published in 2009 by Bantom Press, an imprint of Transworld Publishers, London
This review will appear on both Dooyoo and Ciao under the same user name.