The journey began in 1969 when John Rendall and Anthony Bourke discovered a lion cub at Harrods, London, a time when exotic animals were traded.
Amidst the countless tales of animals displaying recognition for their caregivers and companions, one particular story stands out as truly heartwarming. This is the story of Christian, a lion who hugs his owners, excited like a little kitten, when he sees them after a year. It is a story of pride, joy, love, and companionship. John Rendall and his friend Anthony Bourke came across a lion cub in Harrods, London, in 1969. Back then, people would trade in exotic animals, per The Guardian. It was love at first sight with the cub, and they decided to take him home to their flat in Chelsea.
They called the cub Christian and he lived with them in SophistoCat, a Kings Road furniture shop. He had a giant tray of cat litter and hence, never really ruined any furniture. In fact, Christian also often played with the local kids in the church garden. He was fed steak, taken out to places like restaurants as well as high-end glam parties in the back of their Mercedes Cabriolet.
Rendall explained, "Neither of us dreamed of owning an exotic animal, but I was pretty shocked to see this big cat, even if it was three months old, in this tiny cage." He vividly remembers thinking "This isn't right – we must get him out of here. Surely we can give him a better life. Suddenly our lives were incomplete without a lion cub. And right there, we decided to buy him."
In 2007, a grainy film appeared on YouTube. Ever since then, that video has melted millions of hearts by its sheer existence. After all, what's not to love about a fully grown lion hugging two young men as if he were a hyperactive little cat? This heartwarming reunion of Rendall and Anthony with their pet Christian happened a year after they had left him in the African bush.
Rendall talked about Christian and how he felt when his pet remembered him, "It was so humbling the way he ran towards us with such love and excitement in his eyes, and we felt exactly the same way. We had such a beautiful relationship with him. Christian changed the path of our lives." As per The Guardian, this scratchy homemade film shot in Kenya 40 years ago, has been seen by more than 100 million people, landing Rendall and Bourke on "Oprah" as well as triggering the reissue of their 1971 book "A Lion Called Christian."
Sitting in his African-themed Chelsea flat, Rendall, 65, showed old photos from his past to The Guardian. He said, "Christian opened my eyes to a whole other world. Without him, I would not have had such a unique introduction to Africa." Pointing towards a tree-lined churchyard out of his window, exclaimed "That's where we took him to run and play."
He added, "Large parts of Chelsea are unchanged, including the close where Christian played football and hide-and-seek, and many of the Kings Road buildings in the World's End, so it will be perfect for the filming. A lot of the memories of our time together faded over the years and sometimes seemed like some sort of secret dream only Ace (Anthony) and I shared. But this sudden revival of interest in Christian has brought him back to us. I'm really enjoying reliving our experience, falling in love with him all over again, and missing him."
Recollecting his first time getting to know about this footage on the internet, he laughs and says, "A friend who knew we had had a lion sent me the clip, saying, 'Have you seen these two idiots with long hair and the lion?' I wrote back and said, 'That was us.'"
"Despite the fact that the idea that anyone could buy and own a lion in an urban environment seems unlikely now, there was very little impossible in London in the 60s," he says with a smile.