A Lion Called Christian
Written by: Anthony Bourke and John Rendal
Published By: Broadway Books
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Some time ago, I was treated to a video of a reunion between a young lion who had been introduced to the wild and the two men who owned him for a brief period of time. I found the video to be very moving and uplifting and wanted to learn more about the events leading up to this reunion video. That was when I saw A Lion Called Christian in the bookstore, the cover depicting several shots from that very same video.
A Lion Called Christian first hit book stores in 1971 when Australians Anthony Bourke and John Rendell decided to put into written word their experiences with a lion that they had first purchased as a cub in Harrods in London, England. The book I purchased was an updated addition, addressing the You Tube reunion video and containing a forward by animal activist George Adamson.
It all begins with the purchase of a small lion cub that the two Australians decide to name Christian. As a young cub, Christian grew up living in a furniture store on West End, London. A very gentle and curious cub with a loveable personality, Ace and John had no difficulty persuading the owners of the furniture store (their bosses and landlords) that Christian would be a perfect addition to the store. For a time, this space would provide sufficient living quarters for themselves and their lion, but Ace and John both knew that eventually, Christian would outgrow their home.
Not wanting Christian to live his entire life in captivity, the two friends began searching for a solution that would offer Christian more freedom. They were soon introduced to George Adamson, an animal activist who had some success introducing lions back into the wild. It would be Adamson who would introduce this London lion cub to the unfamiliar plains of Africa, his new home.
A Lion Called Christian makes a definite statement about the treatment of exotic animals. The fact that a lion cub could be purchased at a local department store in London in the early 1970s is amazing. The fact that Christian was not the only lion cub available and that there were quite a few other exotic pets purchase at this location until they changed their rules about exotic animal sales is shocking. Bred in captivity these animals had nothing but captivity in their future, either in a zoo, a circus or in their owner’s homes.
But Christian was fortunate in that his owners realized not only that they would not be able to provide for Christian as he got older, but that selling him into another form of captivity would be wrong. Their efforts, combined with those of George Adamson and his associates, offered Christian a far better life than he could have ever experienced in captivity. The documentaries about Christian and this very book helped to bring about awareness in people all over the world to the plight of exotic animals sold into captivity and the benefits of not only re-introducing these animals back into the wild, but in creating laws that would prevent them being removed from their homes in the first place.
I found the book to be uplifting and heartfelt, the authors offering their honest perspectives of the events that took place during and following their purchase of Christian. They don’t sugarcoat the idea of owning an exotic animal. But they also don’t sugarcoat the idea of introducing that animal into the wild. Although they stress that this was a better future for Christian, they are honest in the hardships and trials faced by their lion cub while learning about the harsh life of the African wilderness. This was no easy task for both the owners, the rehabilitators or the animals themselves and none of the hardships are smoothed over or made insignificant.
I enjoyed the tales about Christian and found that the authors truly loved this lion cub they had purchased. They described how, at times, one could almost forget how exotic a purchase they had made as Christian could often act just like a domestic cat. As a cat owner myself, I had to laugh at the idea of a fifty pound feline attempting to cuddle in a human’s lap, playing ball and rubbing up against or putting his paw on his favorite human as he fell asleep. At the same time, they would remind readers of the dangers of owning such a wild animal; that these animals are not pets and should not be treated as if they could be domesticated like your average housecat.
The photos included in the book were an added bonus, providing visual confirmation of the events descriptively told by the authors. I found the black and white images to be just as dramatic and telling as the color photos and thumbed through them often while reading the book.
A Lion Called Christian should be required reading for young adults so that the idea that exotic animals are not pets can be drummed into them early in life. This is a must read for anyone who has ever watched a show on wildlife or viewed an animal in the zoo and said, “Wouldn’t it be cool to own one of those?!” As a teaching book, A Lion Called Christian is invaluable, but as a story of love and hope this tale is incredibly enjoyable and an engaging and fast read. And to think, I probably would never have known about this book had it not been for a You Tube video of documentary footage taken almost four decades ago.