Christian the Lion's Eritrean ancestry
|Eritrean lion north of Barentu - 1935|
In 1969, two Australian friends, John Rendall and Anthony "Ace" Bourke, visited Harrod's pet department store in London, England, and immediately became captivated with a playful young lion cub. Driven by impulse, they decided to purchase him on the spot. They named the cub Christian and moved him into their flat which had a basement under a furniture shop. This was to become the lion's new home.
Christian soon grew too big for them to handle and his boisterousness personality caused quite a stir in the antique shop. But all good things must end and the reality of keeping a growing lion in the center of London started to sink in. Relief was at hand when George Adamson, a British wildlife conservationist and author, agreed to help Christian adapt to his new home in Kenya.
After leaving him in Kenya for nine months, John and Ace returned to visit Christian in 1972. They were warned that Christian was virtually a wild animal and would not remember them. Undaunted, John and Ace went ahead to meet him. The reunion, which was uploaded to YouTube in 2008, made Christian's story an international sensation that captured the emotions of millions worldwide.
Christian's Eritrean ancestry
Eritrea was once home to a large range of animals, including lions, leopards, elephants, giraffes, zebras and rhinos.With the arrival of the British in the 1940s, many of these animals' populations were decimated due to poaching, particularly, the country's lion population which were also captured and sold to foreign countries.
It appears this how Christian's ancestor left Eritrea. In early 1940s, Aharon Shulov, a Jewish entomologist, wanted to start a Biblical zoo in Jerusalem by acquiring animals mentioned in the Bible. Among his top priority was a male lion. Since these majestic beasts had long been extinct in his region, he asked his friend Dov Gazit, who was in Eritrea helping construct an air base for the British, to send him a lion.
In December 1942, Gazit cabled Shulov to say he had found a British officer walking two lion cubs in the streets of the Eritrean capital, Asmara. The officer informed Gazit he had adopted the cubs after their mother was killed in a hunting expedition but was prepared to give them away. Ultimately, Gazit was only able to send one cub named Fifi to the Jerusalem Biblical zoo, after the other cub died.
After Fifi arrived at the Jerusalem zoo, he was renamed Yehuda by Shulov. Yehuda went on to be the sire of a number of cubs that were sold to zoos globally. One of them was Mary, who was sent to London where she gave birth to Christian and his feisty sister on August 12, 1969. Eventually, John and Ace bought Christian after falling for his affectionate behavior from Harrod's pet shop.
Christian's warm interaction with humans and capacity to remember benefactors was something his grandfather Yehuda was known to posses. Upon meeting his previous owner Gazit three years after sending him to Jerusalem's Biblal zoo, Shulov described Yehuda's gentle and affectionate interaction with him:
'the lion nuzzled Gazit’s feet, licked his hand and tried to rest his head on Gazit’s chest,’ writes Shulov. ‘After Gazit left the cage,’ Yehuda ‘stood for a long time watching him go, casting longing glances at Gazit’s receding image.' - David Horovitz
Conservation of lions in Eritrea
Christian's story should remind us the importance of conservation and the need to protect these animals from poaching.With the Eritrean lion population near extinction, it is important that a fenced conservation park for lions be developed in the country so future Eritrean generations can see one of natures most majestic beasts.
|Credit: John Rendall|
|Credit: John Rendall|
|Although related to cats, lions' social behaviors are |
said to be closer to dogs. Credit: John Rendall
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