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The story behind 'Christian the lion' hugging video unfolds

July 22, 2008 | 12:35 pm

The "Christian the lion" video, which shows a young lion hugging and kissing his former caretakers in a heartwarming reunion, has become an Internet sensation, logging more than 3 million views on YouTube. It has all the right ingredients: the lion's menacing slink toward the camera, then the look of recognition that hits his face as he lunges toward the young men, not to attack, but to embrace them, with Whitney Houston's "I Will Always Love You" playing in the background for full sentimental effect.

But now, the video is attracting even more attention because of its back story, which appears to be mostly true, The Times' Web Scout, David Sarno, points out.

The Today show has picked up on it too:

The video is the work of Anthony "Ace" Bourke and John Rendall, two Australians living in the hip Chelsea section of London in 1969. According to published reports, a friend came back from a trip to Harrods and told them that you could buy exotic animals there.

The two friends went there out of curiosity and spotted a 35-pound lion cub in a small cage. The cub had been born in a zoo and sold to the department store, which wasn’t considered that unusual back then.

Bourke and Rendall felt sorry for the cub and bought it. The store was glad to be rid of it, as the cub had broken out of its cage one night and wreaked havoc on a display of imported goatskin rugs.

To make a long story short, the two young men kept the lion cub, which they named Christian, in their living room. They became local celebrities of sorts, parading around London with him, taking him to restaurants and even playing soccer with him, according to a lengthy piece in the Daily Mail.

But as the 35-pound cub grew to 185 pounds and food bills became astronomical, they knew he would have to be released to a less urban habitat. So they arranged to take him to a wildlife refuge in Kenya. They visited him periodically for several years...

...After going without seeing their old friend for several months, they were told he had adapted to his new environment, and the two returned to say goodbye. That's when the famed reunion took place.

"Christian stared at us in a very intense way," Rendall told the Daily Mail:

"I knew his expressions, and I could see he was interested. We called him and he stood up and started to walk towards us very slowly. "Then, as if he had become convinced it was us, he ran towards us, threw himself on to us, knocked us over, knocked George over and hugged us, like he used to, with his paws on our shoulders."

It's nice to know there's some truth behind the hype. But it's not the only video of a lion hugging someone. As the newscaster of that clip (rather inaccurately) quips, "It seems the king of the jungle must have a soft side after all."

-- Tony Barboza

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