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In 1969, Harrods luxury department store in London sold a three-month-old lion cub to two young Australians, John Rendall and Anthony (Ace) Bourke. They named him Christian.For a year, Christian lived happily with John and Ace and his human pride. His home was a pine furniture shop called Sophistocat in the World’s End on Chelsea’s King’s Road. It was here that Fleet Street photographer Derek Cattani first began photographing him.When Christian outgrew London, he was entrusted to the care of George Adamson in Kenya. He and his wife Joy had already successfully rehabilitated a lioness named Elsa, a story known to the world through Joy’s book Born Free and the filmof the same name.
In 1971, one year after Christian had started living in the wild, John and Ace returned to Kenya in an attempt to find him and see how he was adapting. The film clip of their emotional reunion has now been viewed by over 100 million people on YouTube.In 1972, John and Ace returned for a second reunion. Christian, although still affectionate, was much more mature and now preoccupied with wild lionesses. George’s rehabilitation programme was succeeding.In 1973, Christian disappeared into the wild forever. But George heard him mating and was confident that Christian had established his own pride. George Adamson had succeeded in rehabilitating a fifth-generation zoo-bred lion in the wild. It was the first time this had ever been done. When John and Ace took Christian to Kenya in 1970, there were an estimated 400,00 lions in Africa. Today there are fewer than 20,000. The future of Christian’s descendants is as precarious as that of rhino and the elephant – and, in fact, of all Africa’s wildlife.