The Christian the Lion Phenomena

I’d just turned off my computer last night and sat down to watch a movie when my sister Lori called. “I just sent you a link to a YouTube video you absolutely have to watch,” she said. I told her I’d just shut down my computer, but there was such urgency and excitement in her voice I agreed to boot up again.

“I didn’t even get halfway through and just burst into tears,” she said as my Mac whirred back to life. Her voice quivered a little, and I feared she’d burst again before the video even loaded. I doubted any YouTube clip could get me that choked up; it took all of 35 seconds to prove me wrong.

The video — one of several with varying lengths of footage and background music — depicts the 1972 reunion between “Christian the Lion” and two Australians, John Rendall and Anthony “Ace” Bourke, who’d purchased the young 35-pound cub in 1969 and raised him until 1971, at which time George Adamson helped them rehabilitate the then 185-pound lion into the wild African plains of Kenya. Christian had been in Africa for a year when Rendall and Bourke, who’d been informed of Christian’s successful transition, decided to pay him a visit.

By then, Christian had become the head of the pride, and Adamson warned Rendall and Bourke that Christian may not remember them. The video — an excerpt from the documentary Christian: The Lion at World’s End — tells what happened.

In July 2008, the Today show caught up with Bourke and Rendall, who spoke with host Meredith Vieira about their days with Christian and their ongoing commitment to preserving wildlife. It’s a heartwarming article with links to slideshow photos of Christian’s early life and a link to Meredith’s interview with Bourke and Rendall.

The video Lori sent me — shown below — has been viewed more than 10 million times and has a solid five-star rating. No wonder; almost four decades after the documentary was shot, it’s still a five-star story.

Another worth seeing: watch the last 6 minutes of the documentary with original soundtrack and commentary by Virginia McKenna.

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