The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Globe Life

June 12, 2009

Book review: No ‘Lion’: Updated book is heartwarming tale

“A Lion Called Christian”

By Anthony Bourke and John Rendall

Last summer, a heart-tugging YouTube clip went viral, forwarded to person after person around the globe until it made headlines. You might have seen it: It featured a reunion between two young men and an adult lion, with Whitney Houston’s version of “I Will Always Love You” as the soundtrack. Definitely a Kleenex moment. Even now, thinking about it, I get a little misty-eyed.

The story behind that clip is told in “A Lion Called Christian,” originally published in 1971 but recently updated and re-released. The book is a fast read and, while not as sentimental as the YouTube clip, is heart-warming and fascinating.

In 1969, friends Anthony Bourke and John Rendall, newly arrived from Australia, were sightseeing in London’s famous Harrod’s when they came upon two lion cubs for sale. They immediately felt a connection with the male cub, whom they dubbed Christian. After some discussion, they purchased him for the modern equivalent of $3,500 dollars, intent on saving him from the gawking shoppers and life in a cage.

If you can get past the ethical concerns about trafficking in exotic animals (remember, this was 40 years ago), their early days with Christian are rather amusing. Home was an apartment above the furniture store where they worked, appropriately named Sophistocat. At night, Christian slept in the heated basement on a pile of blankets and used a lion-sized litterbox. During the day, he was free to roam around the store, where his presence attracted the attention of customers, who were asked, “Do you have any objection to lions?” His daily exercise consisted of playing in a cemetery surrounded by a tall brick wall.

The laid-back lion cub enjoyed being carried and cuddled but was not encouraged to use his superior strength. “We had not told Christian that he was a lion,” the authors cheekily write. “We thought this knowledge would only lead to regrettable lionlike behavior.” But by the time he was 8 months old and 130 pounds, Christian was growing too bored and too big for life in London.

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