Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Christian the Lion

The true story of "Christian the Lion"

christian the lion - (c) Bill Travers
Christian the lion

"Millions of people have been moved by the amazing affection between Christian the lion and his human friends, John and Ace.

Just as Elsa the lioness, returned to the wild all those years ago by George and Joy Adamson, awoke a respect and fascination for lions so, I believe, Christian can be another ambassador for these wonderful animals. Now so critically reduced in numbers, across Africa.

If you can help us to help them – adopt a lion, buy the “Christian the Lion” DVD, made by my husband Bill Travers, we would be so grateful."

Virginia McKenna
Born Free Foundation Founder and Trustee

Signed copies of Virginia's memoirs are now available from Born Free

Christian’s story

In 1969 a young Australian, John Rendall and his friend Ace Bourke, bought a small lion cub from Harrods pet department, which was then legal.  ‘Christian’ was kept in the basement of a furniture shop on the Kings Road in Chelsea, the heart of the swinging sixties.  Loved by all, the affectionate cub ate in a local restaurant, played in a nearby graveyard, but was growing fast…  

A chance encounter with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna led to a new life for Christian.  He came to live in an enclosure and slept in a caravan at their Surrey home.  Then in 1970 he was flown to Kenya, his ancestral home, and returned to the wild by lion-man George Adamson.  Almost a year later in 1971, John and Ace returned to Kora in Kenya and it is their reunion with Christian at this time that is shown in the clip. 

It was an emotional reunion: “He ran towards us, threw himself onto us, knocked us over and hugged us, with his paws on our shoulders.”
John Rendall

Christian left the Kora Reserve in 1973. George Adamson believed that he made his new territory along the Tana river, but when the Wakamba herdsmen brought their livestock to his hunting ground, he moved on. George said in his autobiography, "I used to count the days on which we hadn't seen Christian, but when they reached 97, I gave up recording them in my diary." Because a lion can live from 12 to 15 years in the wild, Adamson believed that Christian ended his days in the Meru National Reserve only a few miles up river.

christian clip

Below is the last 6 minutes of the film Christian the Lion, with original soundtrack and commentary by Virginia McKenna.

“Christian the Lion’s amazing story took place a long time ago.  In the early 1970’s it was possible, in the UK, to buy a lion from a department store; it was possible to keep that lion in a furniture shop; to exercise him in a church graveyard; to take him to the beach and to have him come to live in my family’s garden in the country.

Thankfully, those days are over.  As we have learned more about the needs of wild animals and how inappropriate it is for them to be kept as ‘pets’ by private individuals, we have come to understand that wildlife belongs in the wild.  That was the philosophy of George and Joy Adamson, that is the legacy of Elsa and that is the philosophy of Born Free today. 

Ace and John did the right thing.  They took a chance and with the help of my parents, Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, and with the incredible skill, dedication and understanding of George Adamson, Christian was given the unique opportunity to become a free-living, wild lion – to take his rightful place in the world

Christian’s extraordinary reconnection with Ace and John nearly a year after he had been returned to his natural habitat, is profoundly touching and deeply moving but we should remember that lions, tigers, leopards, elephants, bears, wolves and many other creatures are potentially dangerous – potentially lethal – wild animals.  We should respect them as such.   After all, Christian’s story is one of love but it is also one all about letting go.

Will Travers

CEO Born Free Foundation

What Happened to the Born Free Lions?

Clip from "The Lions are Free" (1967) in which Born Free Foundation co-founder Bill Travers goes back to Kenya to visit George Adamson and some of the lions from the famous film that George has returned to the wild. The clip shows George and Boy relaxing together.















Adopt a lion

adopt a lion Adopt Read more
Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

Share | |