Above: What a hug Christian the Lion gave his friends.
It all started in 1969 when two university friends, John Rendall and Ace Bourke, traveled to London from Australia to make their mark. Their visit to Harrods, a luxury department store which had a zoo department at that time, bought them a lion cub named Marcus (whom later they renamed Christian). To cut the long story short, Rendall and Bourke raised the lion and managed to get him back into the wild after they realised he was too big to be kept in London. With the help of the lion man, George Adamson, Christian was adapted back to the wild in Africa.
Videos of Christian on YouTube has caused a sensation soon after college student Lisa Williams posted it up. Her video garnered close to 5 million views, 2,960 comments and many other remakes of the video.
Lions, Panthera Leo, “are spectacularly sociable: they hunt together, raise their cubs in nursery groups and defend joint territories.” (University of Minnesota, 2010) There was a certain inclination which suggests that because the lion cub needed the care and attention which the two men readily provided, hence they were able to form a very intimate relationship with the lion. Christian treated the two men as his family from the beginning, as if they were part of his pride.
In the documentary “A Lion Called Christian“, shown on Animal Planet, a six-month-old Christian was shown playing a game of catch with Rendall and Bourke but Zoologist Prof Tim Coulson feels it was no ordinary play. “It’s all part of learning how to hunt,” he said.
According to the Lion Research Centre at the University of Minnesota, it is through play that cubs learn and imitate hunting/fighting techniques from the adults. “Much of their playing imitates behaviors shown by adults, including stalking and fighting.” (University of Minnesota, 2010)
However in the case of Christian, there were no adult lions for him to imitate. It seems that it was part of basic lion instinct that he took on predatory stance during play. It was also this basic lion instinct that got Christian well adapted back into the wild because a lion’s survival relied on his aggression for food and territory.
So would a lion’s aggressive behaviour be learned or by instinct?
In a journal article by W.H. Thorpe, instinct is part of the equation in animal behaviour and these “instinctive systems of behaviour involved in the play of higher animals are most usually (a) prey catching, (b) fighting and territory, (c) sex and reproduction, and (d) exploration.”
In a later part of the documentary, Christian was taken to Kenya, Africa where he became close friends with George Adamson’s lion named Boy. Boy was a full-grown male and was two times the size of Christian.
Initially, Boy saw Christian as a threat but after some fighting, Christian was accepted as part of the pride and since then, they have become inseparable. Boy acted like a father to Christian, teaching him survival in the wild which helped Christian to adapt successfully.
Most people think that captive animals will not be able to survive in the wild because they are too used to being domesticated. But Christian’s case prove all of it wrong. Although natural instinct played a role in helping Christian to adapt to the wild, Boy’s ‘coaching’ further brought out Christian’s lion personality. Rendall and Bourke couldn’t possibly have done so.
So intinctive behaviour and learned behaviour are both very important in helping Christian get back into the wild.
Although a tragedy ensued involving Boy later, Christian quickly became independent and was shown leading his own pride now.
“Evolution of Group Living,” by The University of Minnesota. Lion Research Centre, 02 Apr 2010. URL: http://www.cbs.umn.edu/eeb/lionresearch/research/groupliving.shtml (accessed on 7 Apr 2010).
“Christian, The Lion at World’s End,” by Bill Travers. YouTube Channel, 30 Apr 2009. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5fqsuDLEKv8&feature (accessed on 7 Apr 2010).
“A Lion Called Christian,” by Animal Planet. YouTube Channel, 09 Oct 2009. URL: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cqouVL0AiQ&feature (accessed on 7 Apr 2010).
W. H. Thorpe, 1966. Ritualization in Ontogeny: I. Animal Play. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences, 251(772): 311-319.