Plenty of touching moments have been caught on video and posted on YouTube
, but one unusual reunion captured the hearts of the nation. "More than 40 million people have viewed this very special love story," Oprah says. "It'll probably make you cry a little bit."Watch Christian the Lion's unbelievable story.
Almost 40 years have passed since the reunion between Christian the Lion and his former owners, John Rendall and Ace Bourke. Though decades have passed, they say they aren't surprised the video still has such wide appeal. "It is a love story," Ace says. "We're all so obsessed with our pets anyway, but it's got the nurturing, the loss, the separation or the testing of a relationship and the reunion."
People watching the video are often scared that the reunion might end in something other than a hug—like a mauling. John says he didn't worry for a moment that Christian might attack. "We knew him so well," he says. "We'd been a year in England with him, and so we knew his moods, we knew his body language. His body language said, 'Yes, I recognize you.'"
When the YouTube video first gained popularity, John says he and Ace hadn't even seen it. "Someone sent it to me in England and said, 'Look, I remember that you and Ace had a lion all those years ago—I thought you'd be interested,'" John says. "I e-mailed back and said, 'You idiot, it's us!'"
John and Ace first bought Christian at Harrod's in 1969. Today, it's illegal to buy a wild animal, and Harrod's, of course, no longer sells them.
John says he and Ace wanted to help Christian the minute they laid eyes on him. "When we first saw him, [we were] so shocked that there was this beautiful creature for sale in a small cage, and the immediate reaction was, 'Get him out of there,'" John says.
For the first six or nine months, Ace says he and John had no trouble taking care of Christian. "It was an adventure. We thought we could do better for him," he says. "As well as anyone, we could secure a future for him."
In 1972, a year after the now-famous hug, John and Ace returned to Kenya to see Christian for one last time. "We spent nine days with him. He was much bigger and much more independent, and we were nearly superfluous to his life," Ace says. "But that was the whole point of it, to return to the wild."
John and Ace haven't seen Christian in decades, but they do have an idea of what happened to him. "He was getting more and more independent, and although he was affectionate with us [the last time we saw him], it was more on his terms. It was like, 'I'm a big boy now,'" John says. "He used to wander off for longer and longer periods, and eventually he did not come back to camp at all."
Though he can't say for sure, John says he thinks Christian moved on to the next national park, where there was more game and more opportunity to create his own pride. Meet the face behind FacebookJimmy Fallon's latest gig