What do you know about Harrods Animal Kingdom?

written by Lee Strauss | Ginger Gold Mysteries

March 23, 2018

Ginger Gold is a strong, intelligent, passionate woman with a frailness and insecurity to her. I think most readers will find something that they relate to that pulls at the heartstrings as well as tickles the intellect as they try to figure out whodunit.

While writing Murder at Kensington Gardens, I researched Harrods Animal Kingdom, a prestigious department store in London. Harrods was famous for its selection of exotic animals, from cheetahs to snakes. The store makes the perfect setting for yet another adventure with Ginger Gold and Basil Reed. Harrods is also the center of one of the most famous animal stories in the world

Have you heard of a lion named Christian?

In 1969 two young Australians were visiting London and made an impromptu purchase at Harrods. This purchase would change the course of both men's lives. Ace Burke and John Rendalls had purchased a lion cub named Christian on a whim for 250 guineas (about £262). The men were equipped with little more than basic instructions on how to feed the cub. They didn't even have access to Google! 

Before the endangered species law was passed in 1967 it was fashionable for wealthy Londoners to own exotic animals. Harrods was known to sell camels and baby elephants among many other exotic "pets”. In some cases these animals were a sort of accessory for upper-class Londoners. It was not unusual to spot a wildcat frolicking in a park or being led on a leash in downtown London. 

Christian, the little lion cub, fit particularly well in London. His owners described him as well-mannered and playful. Christian spent his days living below an antique furniture shop called Sophistocat with his owners. Sometimes he would visit customers who entered the shop. Although Christian was adapted to his environment and grew to be very attached to his owners, Burke and Rendalls began to fear for Christian's future as he was growing quickly and beginning to alarm visitors in the furniture shop.

An unexpected solution presented itself when two unlikely visitors showed up at Sophistocat. Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna had starred in the 1964 film Born Free which tells the tale of the Adamson's returning a lioness to the wild. The pair suggested that Burke and Rendalls contact George Adamson to help arrange bringing Christian to Kenya.

Born Free - 1966 - starring Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers

Born Free - 1966 - starring Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers

Adamson eventually returned Christian to Africa where he was successfully reintegrated into his natural environment. A year after Christian's return to Kenya, Burke and Rendalls decided to visit the lion. The reunion was a joyous one. Christian not only recognized his former owners but greeted them with enthusiasm. 

Watch the reunion on YouTube HERE.

Many documentaries and movies have been made about Christian, making him the most famous lion in the world. Christian’s story has brought great public awareness to the reality of lions being endangered in Africa, as well as the importance of protecting all endangered species. 

Have you watched Born Free? I'd love to hear your thoughts if you have. 🙂 

I'm also excited to announce the opening of my paperback store on my website!

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  1. I saw Born Free several times but it was a very long time ago. I loved that movie. I have always had a dream to connect with a large cat like that. Thank you so very much for sharing this.

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