Monday, June 29, 2009

Christian the Lion: Then and Now


Dot: I sat up all night watching these videos over and over. It was so nice to watch a story with such a happy ending. I tried to collect all of them here for everybody to see and watch for themselves.

Dino: My favorite was the one of the two guys with the long brown hair and long blond hair sitting on the couch. They were dressed in the really bright shirts and they were talking about how much the lion really hurt them. I was a little confused since all the other videos showed the lion being nice to the two guys. But in this one video they said how much the lion hurt them. The way they told it made me laugh so hard.

Dot: Dino, that was not real. That was fake. They were not the real guys who helped the lion. They were pretending to be them and telling a different story. They weren't real.

Dino: What do you mean, they weren't real? They looked like real people and they looked like the guys in the other videos.

Dot: Oh, brother.

Dot: Well, we do have a special surprise. While surfing the Internet, I found somebody's personal website in India, and they said they were posting videos of some of their favorite old TV shows. I thought it would be fun to see what somebody's favorite shows would be in India. It looked like they set the recorder to just go and cover a couple of shows at a time. Well, in between two shows there was a local news show. The announcer said that they would be interviewing a lion who said he was Christian the Lion from London. I almost fell out of my seat.

The reporter says the date is September 1989, and that they are in Bombay, India. The reporter says that the lion he is interviewing is the famous Christian the Lion, and Christian is now living in India. The quality of the video is very poor since it is a recording posted on a website and the sound is weak. The other twist is that it has English subtitles. It took me a while, but after watching it over and over, I was able to write down the subtitles and the interview, and I was able to transcribe it here. I hope there is no copyright problems here.

I tried contacting the person who's website has the video, but I have not received any response.

Dino: Cool. I didn't know about this. Where is my popcorn? What is a copyright?

Dot: Dino, you don't need popcorn to read a movie.

Dino: Are you kidding? I need popcorn all the time. That is my favorite food. Give me a few minutes to throw my bag into the microwave.

Dot: (foot tapping and tapping). Dino, are you done yet?

Dino: Almost! Go ahead and start the movie. I will be right there. ( A "ding" is heard in the background).

Dot: Morron!

The video is shot in a dark bar and the reporter and Christian are sitting at a corner table. The camera is over the shoulder of the reporter. The space appears to be very small and a type of music that sounds East Indian is playing in the distant background.

Reporter: (talking directly to the camera) This is reporter Kalash Gopal Krishna. Today is September 9, 1989, and we are in the city of Bombay. I have with me Christian the Lion, the famous lion from the late 1960's and early 1970's. He was born in a London zoo, purchased by a couple of young Australian men in Harrod's department store, raised in a flat and furniture store on King's Road and then eventually taken to Africa to be released into the wild to live as a wild lion. Is all that true and you are the same Christian the Lion?

Christian: Yep, I am that same lion.

Reporter: So, tell us Christian, how did you get to India? How long have you been here?

Sorry, if I may interject one more thing here. I will make a quick note here for our viewers. I first heard about Christian when a person sent me a note saying he saw a lion in a glassblowing shop, and the lion was working on some pieces. I went to the shop to check this out and that is where I found Christian. He told me his name and I thought I recognized that somewhere. I went back home to do some research and came back to ask Christian if he was the same Christian the Lion from the late 1960's and early 1970's who was raised in London and then released to the wild in Africa by George Adamson.

Christian: And I said, "Yes. That is me." To tell you the truth I was very surprised because I thought nobody remembered. I was kind of flattered, but also hesitant to talk to you.

Reporter: Why would you be hesitant to talk to me?

Christian: Because I kind of enjoy just being a lion and doing my own thing without all the additional attention. But, my girlfriend said that it might be nice to have people find out that you are OK and doing great and having fun.

Reporter: How did you become interested in glassblowing?

Christian: Well, when I was growing up in London Ace and John would walk up and down the street all the time. I remember this one shop that they would take me where the man was making all these beautiful vases and bowls inside his shop. I loved to watch the flames in the oven, and then watch the glass blower create all this wonderful and beautiful things of glass.

Reporter: So that memory staying with you all that time?

Christian: Well, I had forgotten about it for a long time. You know, I was a very young kitten, there was a lot to do and see in London. Then I had to move to Africa to be a lion and do that stuff.

Reporter: Did you like Africa?

Christian: Oh yeah, I thought it was really cool. At first I was really excited. I though that this whole thing would be a lot of fun. That is what John and Ace kept telling me. I was looking forward to going. I had only known London, so I didn't really know what to expect.

Reporter: And when you got there, to Africa??

Christian: Something changed in me. Something.............. changed. To this day I still can't explain the feeling. Once I got out of that traveling box and smelled the air and touched the ground, I remember just feeling different. I was excited, but I remember also feeling kind of scared.

Reporter: What do you mean scared?

Christian: That is the hard part to describe. I felt a lot of responsibility. I felt a lot was expected of me. And don't get me wrong....... I wanted to do it. I was excited. George was so nice to me and everybody was so nice. I really liked it there. It was so different than London. It was a lot hotter and drier. I saw animals there and things there I could not have ever imagined. Sometimes it was overwhelming, but I was very excited.

Then I met Boy!

Reporter: He was the male lion that also lived there?

Christian: Yes. I was really scared of him at first. I didn't know what he was. I figured he was some type of lion, but he was so aggressive and mean to me that I didn't know what to do.

I don't remember my parents at all. I figured at that time, that is what my fathered looked like.

Reporter: So eventually, Ace and John went back to London.

Christian: Yeah, I became friends eventually with Boy and George and other animals. An eventually I met some females and we started to get to know each other. And we were all having a great time. I really enjoyed being there and being and living there and having the freedom to run and do things and explore and have fun.

I started to realize that my life was totally different and that there were other things I would be doing that I didn't know about. Like finding a mate and having cubs and finding a place to live and having to find all my own food and defending everything from other males that wanted to take all that from me. And I was OK with that. I understood that is how things are and I was ready to do those things.

I do remember have occasional memories of London with Ace and John and how much fun we had. No pressures, just lots of fun. I realized that was when I was a baby and that now I was an adult and my life was not that way anymore.

Reporter: Do you remember the first time you saw Ace and John after you moved to Africa?

Christian: Absolutely! That was one of the most wonderful memories in my life. I never expected to see them again.

Before that happened I had not gone back to see George in a long time. We were pretty far away. I had to defend my territory from some pretty tough lions, and I got pretty banged up while taking down a large wildebeest one day. I had been thinking about how nice it would be to go back and see George and everybody. One day I just started to go back. Lisa, my mate, said I was nuts, but she went along. It was a long, long walk back.

On the way back I met up with George and I was so happy to see him. We started to walk in the direction back to the camp. George said he wanted to show me something that I had not seen before, and he walked up to the top of a hill. I was so tired. I wanted to lie down. We had been traveling for days and everybody was tired.

Reporter: You, of course, had no idea that John and Ace were on the other side of the hill.

Christian: No, not at all. I had no idea what George wanted to show me.

Reporter: So, you got to the top of the hill and you looked over?

Christian: I got to the top of the hill, and I could see a long ways down a couple of people. I did not recognize them as anybody from George's camp. I was really unsure what was happening. I did trust George, so I didn't think he was doing anything to hurt me. I looked at them again, and there was something familiar about them, but I couldn't figure it out. I went a little closer to them, one step at a time. I heard one of them call out my name, but it sounded different than how George says it. John and Ace say my name differently than George does. It had been so long since I had heard their voices, and I did not recognize them.

Reporter: But, as soon as you knew who it was, you starting running toward them.

Christian: Oh, yeah, of course. Once I recognized them, I ran as fast as I could. I was so happy to see them. I jumped up on them like I used to do when I was a baby and we lived in London. I could not believe that they were there. I truly thought I would never see them again. I knew it was a very long trip for them, and I was so glad to see them.

Reporter: Did you know that there was somebody standing off to the side and filming all of that?

Christian: No, at the time I did not. I heard about that later on. I am so used to have my picture taken. John and Ace would take a lot of pictures of me. That doesn't bother me at all.

Reporter: So what did you do following your reunion with Ace and John?

Christian: Well, first off I was so excited that I totally forgot that Mona and Lisa were there. My bad manners, and I felt really guilty. But they did the right thing and came down to greet Ace and John. I knew everybody would get along. I did tell Mona and Lisa about my time growing up in London, how I got to Africa and how nice John and Ace were to me, so they were familiar with the story.

After that we all walked back to the camp, which was still a short distance away. We had a really nice time for the next couple of days. We were chatting about all kinds of things and I told everyone about what I had been doing for the last several months. Lisa and I were wanting to start a family. We had been looking for a new place to start the pride. I had some tangles with some lions, but we had not found a new place yet. That is when we decided to come back to the camp and maybe try another direction.

Reporter: It sounds like the trip was worth it to come back. You could regroup and look in other areas.

Christian: Yes, we did that. We did go back out, looking in another direction, and we did eventually find another place that we could call our own. However, it was very far away, but we did find something. We were able to start our own family, and we were quite happy.

Things were going great, when, all of a sudden, I had another crazy idea to go back to George's camp. Now Lisa had thought I was truly mad. She did not want to come, and the kids were pretty young, but I told her I had to go.

Reporter: So the while family made the trip together?

Christian: Yes, it is not safe for a single lion to remain on its own where we live. So we had myself, Lisa, and Mona to help with the kids and then three kids. The kids were really into the trip at first. They were so excited. Near the end they were pretty tired and wanted to rest. That is why is took us a little longer to get there.

When I got to George's camp I realized that Ace and John were already there, and I ran in during the middle of the night and pounced on them with all my body. They were so surprised. It was a lot of fun. (Sigh!)

Reporter: Why the heavy sigh?

Christian: Because I knew it was only temporary and then we would have to walk several days to find another place to live. I didn't know if the previous place would still be available when we got back. We took that chance.

I would have to leave George again and the people there. Things were pretty crazy trying to find a place to live further and further away and find food for everybody and fend off the other lions and not get hurt. Lisa said she wanted more cubs after these were grown. She said she wasn't getting any younger. I guess I was feeling a lot of pressure. I wanted to stay with George and have Ace and John stay with all of us like it used to be, but I knew that wasn't reality.

(Christian takes a long slow guzzle of his beer in his mug, sets it down and stares out the window to see what is going on outside. He doesn't appear to want to continue the conversation. He points out the children playing in the street and the bright clothes they are wearing and how much fun they seem to be having. Christian then gets up from the table, excuses himself and walks to the restroom, saying he will be back in a few minutes. The reporter turns off his microphone and walks outside, the camera is still running and then turns off.)

(Then the camera is back on, the reporter is back in his chair and Christian is in front of him in the same chair.)

Christian: I had not thought about those memories in a long time. That time seems so long ago, yet sometimes so fresh.

Reporter: Are you OK with telling us what happened after you left George's camp and the last time you saw John and Ace?

Christian: Sure. Like I said earlier, we walked for several days, and then we finally found a place where we could stay, at least for awhile. We did not find any other lions around, and there appeared to be some food. The cubs were getting big and we were pretty busy with teaching them things. We were all pretty happy and looking forward resting and being a family.

Reporter: That all sounds really nice.

Christian: It was. It was. (dead silence)

Reporter: So how did you get to India, and where is your family?

Christian: Well............ (he sifts in his seat)

One night, we were all sleeping. The day before we had killed the biggest wildebeest we had every seen. We were ecstatic! We gorged ourselves until we couldn't stand up. It had been several days since we had eaten anything, so we were all very hungry. After a few hours we all fell asleep. (dead silence)

Reporter: Everybody fell asleep? Shouldn't somebody have been watching as a guard?

Christian: Yes.

Reporter: Who was it?

Christian: (in a very low breath) Me.

Reporter: And you fell asleep. What happened? Did you get attacked during the night?

Christian: Yes. Poachers. I woke up to the sounds of guns. Even though I was shot I was able to attack the people and I know I killed at least one and I know I wounded others. I chased the others away.

Reporter: Oh my god. What happened to your family?

Christian: When I got back the cubs were all dead. Mona and Lisa were still alive but they were not doing well. Mona died within a couple of hours. Lisa survived until the next day. I stayed with her until she passed away.

I buried them all in that spot. It took me several days, but I knew I had to because I didn't want the poachers coming back and I didn't want their bodies eaten by those horrible hyenas. I had to chase many of them off while I was doing that. A couple even got so close to bite me, but I made sure that was the last thing they did alive.

Reporter: I would like to say "good for you" but I don't think that is appropriate.

Christian: No.

Reporter: I am so sorry about your family. What did you do after that? How bad were your wounds?

Christian: Well, I was shot in the shoulders and neck. I walked and walked for several days. I don't remember a lot of that. I remember being very tired. Then I woke up somewhere in a tent, and a person was there and taking care of my wounds. I stayed there for several weeks.

Reporter: Who was this person?

Christian: Eventually I found out this person, a woman, lived alone in the desert in this tent. She told me she was not afraid of me. Obviously, I could not speak to her, but I tried to convey that I wouldn't hurt her and that I appreciated her help.

I did not recognize the area, but later I found out that I was near the Somalia/Kenya border. She said that she had to keep me hidden because poachers would want to kill me.

Reporter: She sounds like a very brave and intelligent person. Do you remember her name?

Christian: She did say it, but she also told me that I could not tell anybody that I knew her. I thought that strange, at first, then I realized that she was a woman living alone in the desert, and she must be hiding.

Reporter: Wow! What a great story. So how did you get out of there?

Christian: Well, since there was a language barrier, we didn't have detailed conversations. I got the idea that she was going to get me out of the area undetected. Obviously, she didn't feel it was safe that I was seen in public. I didn't know where I would be taken to, but I did trust her to help me. I could tell she was putting herself at great risk to help me.

One day a man came by that she appeared to know. This man had a cart drawn by two big horses with a cloth cover on it like a type of tarp or canopy. They helped me into the cart and then covered me. I still didn't know where I was being taken, but I did keep very quiet. Sometimes I was very hot and uncomfortable, but I didn't say anything.

We traveled in the cart across the desert for several days and nights. The only time we stopped was in the middle of the night to eat and drink.

Eventually, I could tell that we were entering a city because the smells were different, the weather was cooler, and the sounds were louder. I could hear merchants and children and boats.

We traveled for several hours in the city, and then all of a sudden the cart stopped, the man jumped down from the cart and then disappeared for quite a while. I think I fell asleep in the sun.

I was woken up by the cart suddenly starting again and then it sounded like we were riding into a type of building and I heard a large door come slamming down. The man came back to me, lifted up the tarp and motioned to me to jump down from the cart and asked me to follow him quickly, which I did.

I didn't see anybody else around, but I could smell the presence of other people. They must have been hiding. Maybe they had never seen a full grown male lion before!

Reporter: I bet they hadn't.

(The reporter pulls out a map of eastern Africa. He points out Kenya and Somalia. He said the largest port city to Kenya is Kismaayo.)

Reporter: Where did this man take you to?

Christian: We went directly onto a boat. Once we were on the boat, he took me to a large wooden box, and directed me to go into it. Obviously, I thought, this man is not afraid of me and was trying to help me, so I went inside. There was fresh straw, fresh water and several pounds of meat. I realized how hungry I was and went to eat the meat and drink water. I lay down in the straw and fell asleep.

(Christian took another long guzzle of his beer, which emptied the glass. He signaled to the waiter that he would like another, which the reporter gratefully picked up the tab. The reporter ordered his own drink, but I could not tell what kind it was. Christian took another long guzzle of his bear and set it down. He took a long deep breath, closed his eyes for a few seconds and then opened them again, appearing ready to continue.)

Reporter: Are you OK? Let me know when you want to continue.

Christian: I am OK. Sometimes these are hard memories to recall.

Reporter: Was it hard to know you were leaving Africa?

Christian: Absolutely. I know this sounds ridiculous, but I felt like I had failed John and Ace and George and all their hard work and sacrifice they made to get me there and help me to become a wild lion. Obviously, my life would be so different if I had been purchased by somebody else in the store when I was a baby. How lucky I was to have so many people care about me, and I felt like I let them down.

It was solely my fault that my family was killed.

Reporter: No, it was the fault of the poachers. They don't have the right to come up and shoot you and your family. Besides being unethical, it is illegal. That is why it is called poaching. You are not at fault at all. You did everything to help stop the attack, including killing and wounding those people and then living to sit here and tell me the story.

Christian: (sigh) Those things are true.

Reporter: So tell me about the ship. How big was it? Did you get a chance to walk around? Did that man in the cart stay with you? Did you know where you were heading to?

Christian: Yes, the man in the cart stayed with me. In fact he loaded his cart and horses also on the ship. He unhooked the horses from the cart so they could relax out of their work harnesses. There were a lot of other animals there. Some were in boxes if they were not safe to come out. I think I saw some crocadiles, and I was glad to have them in their boxes. Some like horses and dogs and other harmless animals were walked around by their people. The man in the cart walked me around on a rope. I tried to be friendly toward the other animals, but most were scared of me. Except for the two horses that pulled the cart. They seemed unafraid of me and would nicker and head nod to me, and I gestered back with a head nod.

One chimpanze kept his distance from me as he sat on top of a large box, but I could tell that he was curious. He was chattering some sounds at me, but I didn't understand him. I tried to smile and gesture "hello" with a slight head nod. Eventually, he did stop chattering and sat still looking at me. He tried a smile, and then seemed very proud of himself by chattering more.

Reporter: Do you think that these animals had been caught in the wild and were then being transported out of the country for zoos and circuses?

Christian: Well, some were. Those were the most terrified. There were others that were similar to me and had been raised with humans and were not afraid of humans. I had an easier time talking with them. I think that particular chimp I talked about had spent a lot of time in a cage and appeared very frustrated and confused. But he did have a lot of experience with humans. I didn't get his whole story. I think each animals, such as myself, had their own individual story to tell. Some were willing to talk and some were not.

Reporter: Did you have any idea where you were going? Did the man in the cart say anything?

Christian: No, no really. I didn't understand him very well. I didn't recognize his language. It was not like any language I heard in London or Africa.

Looking back I do remember hearing "India" here and there in the conversation, but I didn't know what that was. I had never heard of a place called India.

Reporter: How long were you on the ship?

Christian: I don't remember the number of days. I am not good about keeping track of that. But there were A Lot of sleeping nights. Many more than it took to get to the ship itself from where me and my family were. I do remember that we went to other places, and we would stay there for a couple of days at a time. Sometimes animals would leave and more would come on, so that was always changing. But there was a very long stretch of time when we didn't go to anymore places, and then we did go to more places and more animals would come off and on.

Reporter: That must have been when you crossed the Indian Ocean.

Christian: I do remember something that I had not thought about until now. Many of the animals I had never seen before, and they spoke languages I had never heard before. But many of them were used to humans and other animals. They had been around humans. They were not afraid of humans. On the other hand, there were some animals who were obviously recently taken from the wild, and they were very afraid of humans and the other animals. They were the ones who remained hidden in the boxes and did not come out at all.

Reporter: Very interesting. It seems that the ship you were on was an animal trading ship, or at least that was part of what they did. I bet you were going to ports all the way up Somalia, up the Arabian Peninsula and then jumped over to India and then went down that coastline picking up and dropping off more animals.

Christian: Yes, that sounded like what I saw happening.

Reporter: Fascinating. I would love to get on one of those ships to document what happens.

Christian: What do you mean?

Reporter: I mean that most of that trading is illegal and black market. I am sure most of those animals are not to be removed or transported.

Christian: You mean what this man was doing was wrong to get me out of Africa.

Reporter: I don't think I would use the word "wrong" since there was some definite benefit to you. He helped you a lot and risked his own life to do that. I would use the word "illegal." He could have been arrested and punished if he was caught. He probably thought he could get a high price for you whereever he was taking you.

You can't just take a lion and ship it anywhere you want to. Why do you think you were in a covered cart the whole way.

Christian: I thought it was because of poachers.

Reporter: Well, sort of that also. So where did you end up?

Christian: I came to this city, Bombay. After leaving the ship, I got into his cart again, under the tarp and we road again for a couple more days in the hot sun. The heat was different than the heat in Africa. I noticed that people sweat a lot more here than in Africa.

Reporter: Sure, it is more humid here. Where you came from in Africa it was mostly desert, which is dry and hot. Here it is humid and hot.

Christian: I have a hard time with that word "humid." It is hard to say for me.

Reporter: (laughing)OK. So where did the man with the horse cart take you?

Christian: Well, we rode for a couple of days, and then we road through a very large gate (I peeked out from under the tarp to see.) And the smell changed. I started to recognize smells from home, in Africa. Under the cover, I heard a roar and a zebra snorting and other familiar sounds. The smells were familiar.

Reporter: Did he take you to a circus? Or a zoo?

Christian: Well, it was more like a zoo, but the zoo belonged to a man and his family. It was his own zoo. Not like the zoo where my parents were and where I was born. That is for everybody to come see. This zoo was just for his own family and friends.

Reporter: He took you to a private zoo? You were purchased for a private zoo?

Christian: Yeah, a private zoo.

Reporter: The only private zoo I know of in Bombay belongs to a British man name Reginald Smith.

Christian: That is him. He is very nice to me. I really like it there. The way he speaks reminds me alot of John and Ace, but different.

He lets me walk loose on the place since he knows I am great with people. I play with his kids and his dogs and his cats. He lets other animals walk around loose if he knows they are good with people. Most are, but there are some that he is working with to become more friendly. That is one of the reason he has the zoo, so that he can allow animals to do as they choose.

Reporter: Wow! Good for you. Sounds like you really have a nice place.

Christian: The best part is that I have a new girlfriend.

Reporter: Good for you. Where did you meet her?

Christian: At the boss' house? She lives there. She is a white Siberian Tiger. She is gorgeous. She has been raised with humans and was in a circus until the boss bought her when the circus decided they wanted one of her cubs instead of her, so they put her up for sale and the boss brought her here.

Reporter: Wow! I would love to get a chance to see his zoo. From what I have heard, no reporter had been allowed inside to see his animals.

Christian: I am not surprised. He is very private. He uses the word "exploit" a lot and says "he doesn't want to do that with his animals." I didn't know what that meant. What does that mean?

Reporter: (laughing) It means he respects your privacy and doesn't want people coming in to stare at you and the other animals like you are in a public zoo. He wants you and the other animals to feel comfortable to just be yourself.

Christian: Oh, that sounds nice. But I don't think you would "exploit" us. Would you? If I asked the boss if it would be OK for you to come over since I know you are very nice, he might be OK with that. I will ask him for you.

Reporter: That would be wonderful of you. I would really appreciate that. Tell him that I respect your privacy and only let you do what you want to do.

Christian: I think he would be OK with that.

Reporter: So how did you get into the glassblowing?

Christian: Actually that was Kenya's idea.

Reporter: Who is Kenya?

Christian: Oh, sorry. She is my girlfriend. She was the one who suggested it. We were talking one day and I mentioned to her about remembering watching the glassblowers in London as a baby. She said she knew about a shop that did that near the house. The boss asked them if I could come by and hang out and watch them. Of course, they were a little apprehensive because I am a lion but eventually they got to know me, and they knew my boss, and knew he had nice animals. Now they think it is fun.

They let me work on some pieces once I had some training. In fact, I am going to be having a show pretty soon with all the pieces I have made. The profits will go to a local charity for abandoned animals.

Oh, gosh, look at the time. I need to get going and meet Kenya. We are going to go over some things for the show and have lunch.

Reporter: (giving Christian his card) Well, thank you very much for your time, Christian. I appreciate you spending time and telling us your story. I know it was difficult to talk about.

Christian: Well, some spots were. Others were enjoyable to remember. Thanks for allowing me the time to tell it.

Reporter: You have my information. Please let me know when your show is going to be and I will mention it on the show.

Christian: That would be great! And let me talk to the boss about letting you come in and meet with the other animals. You know, many of them have their own stories to tell. You can probably get a few more interviews from them. I know of one chimpanzee who would talk your ear off.

Reporter: That would be great. I would love the opportunity and I would love to meet Kenya.

Christian: And she would enjoy meeting you. Talk to you soon.

Reporter: Good bye.

Dino: (Sniff) That is a great story.

Dot: Dino, are you crying? I have never seen you cry.

Dino: Well, that was a great story. I am glad that things turned out for him after having such a horrible event happen to him.

Dot: So, am I. I wish we knew what happened to him after that. Maybe I can do some more research and see if I can find anything else.

Dino: That would be great.

Dot: So, everybody, take a look at these videos and you can see Christian's story before he came to India and his life in London and his introduction to Africa. They are worth watching.

Dino: Are these videos before or after the interview we just read?

Dot: Oh brother. The popcorn has gone to his head. Say goodnight, Dino.

Dino: Goodnight Dino.