169. Lion Reunites with Humans
This lion was reared by the guys in the vid, He was then released into the wild in
Africa but a year later the guys returned to see if he was doing OK.
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Christian the lion reunites with humans
Christian the lion's owners recall final farewell
Anthony Bourke and John Rendall look back at last goodbye to famous lion
By Mike Celizic
Those two guys with the lion -- the ones in the YouTube video with the Whitney Houston soundtrack -- are back. Now, they are showing another film clip, unseen for years, of their second and final reunion in Africa with their pet and friend, Christian.
Ace Bourke and John Rendall talked about that final reunion with TODAY's Meredith Vieira Wednesday in New York. It shows the same two shaggy Aussies seen in the clip that was viewed by some 45 million people on YouTube last year. But Christian the lion is twice the size he was in that film, an enormous and regal king of the Kenyan jungle.
In the first video, Christian leaps on them in joy. In the second, he's nearly 500 pounds and totally in charge. Although he tried to climb on their laps, film from the encounter shows him lying placidly on the ground while his friends hunker down with him to exchange kisses and licks.
Thanks to the attention generated by the YouTube film, Bourke and Rendall have updated and republished the book they wrote about their experience in 1971, "A Lion Called Christian." They've also written a children's version of the book called "Christian the Lion." And, they told Vieira, they've reintroduced to the public George Adamson, the man who rehabilitated Christian and worked tirelessly to preserve endangered wildlife and habitat in Kenya.
"The beauty of YouTube is that it's introduced another generation to Adamson and his work," Bourke told Vieira after watching his younger self with the lion who once roamed the streets of swinging London of 1969 and 1970. Some have suggested that the YouTube film, which shows Christian hugging and licking his two human friends like an eager puppy, must have been staged. The lion had not seen them for a year while he was being rehabilitated into the wild.
"That's his genuine reaction, you can see the excitement," Rendall told Vieira, who admitted that she is one of millions who can't watch the video without getting misty-eyed.
"We knew he'd know us and would still love us the way we loved him.
But we were surprised at how exuberant the greeting was," added Bourke.
The video has been so popular because it strikes deep emotional chords, Rendall added. "There are so many issues that have arisen out of it," he said. "One, I think, is that people can appreciate the love that an animal can have for human beings. It's completely honest. You couldn't fake that," Rendall said.
They had raised Christian from when he was a few months old after buying him in Harrods, the London department store that bragged that it could get anything for anyone. He had hung out with them in a furniture store on King's Road, the hippest street in swinging London, romped with them in the big garden behind a local church, toured the town in the back of their convertible, and even eaten with them in restaurants.
"It wasn't as extraordinary to have a lion in London at that time," Rendall told Vieira. "There were so many extraordinary things going on. Swinging London. There was music. We would see the Stones and the Beatles driving up and down King's Road." In that milieu, he said, they were "just a couple Aussies with a lion."
Bourke and Rendall had known each other in their native Australia. After graduating university, they made their separate ways to London, as many Aussies did and still do before settling down into a career. They met by chance in London and moved in together, getting work and lodging over a trendy custom-made furniture store named, appropriately enough, "Sophistocat."
Even in 1969, Bourke and Rendall knew that it would be a huge challenge to have a lion as a pet. They had to wait weeks and convince the people at Harrods that they were capable of caring for a lion. But there were no laws against it back then. They didn't even have to take out a special insurance policy.
They don't recommend that anyone else do it, and hasten to say that the very idea is preposterous and dangerous. But they did it and they succeeded and their story continues to move people and focus attention on vanishing wildlife and habitat even today.
Bourke and Rendall had no training in how to raise a lion, but seemed to have an intuitive knowledge that you don't own a lion as you would a dog and you're not its master; you're its friend. They never showed fear around Christian and never tried to impose their will on him. Instead of his owners, they were his pride.
There was just one time when they were frightened by Christian, and also one time when he was scared by anything in London. Their moment came when Christian got hold of a fur belt that had fallen off a coat and settled down to chew it to oblivion.
They tried to rescue the belt, but Christian flattened his ears back and growled, not like their pal but like a wild animal they didn't recognize. Rendall and Bourke felt like fleeing the room, but instead they retreated a few steps and talked calmly to each other, as if nothing were wrong. They remain convinced that if they had shown Christian the fear they felt, the relationship would have been over and Christian would have become dangerous.
Freedom is a Right
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