Joy and George Adamson

© Elsa Conservation Trust
The story about Elsa the Lioness and a book called Born Free continues to capture the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Joy and George Adamson were the pioneers behind this incredible journey and their conservation legacy continues today.Living in a remote African wilderness and returning and orphaned Lioness back into the wild, must have been a labour of love. This conservation work was groundbreaking and thought to be foolhardy by many - yet the Adamson's persevered and in the process laid the foundations for future generations.

A Brief History

Joy (born Friederike Victoria Gessner) and George Adamson met in Kenya on safari and were later married in 1944. At the time they met, Joy, who was given this name by her second husband (a botanist), had a deep interest in the natural world and had used her artistic abilities to illustrate East African flora, while George was a game warden for the Northern District of Kenya.

Their story really began when George brought home 3 Lion cubs in 1956 - sadly, while he was on a mission into the wilderness, a Lioness had charged him out of the deep bush, in defence he shot and killed her only to find out that she was protecting her young. Raising 3 cubs was a difficult task and after 6 months, 2 of them were sent to a European zoo. The smallest cub, Elsa, remained with Joy and George. At this point a decision was made to train and then release Elsa back into the wild.

This momentous decision would change the lives of the Adamson's and set a benchmark for wildlife conservation in Africa. Elsa was eventually successfully released into the wild, after months of training in which she would learn how to survive on her own in the bush. Elsa became the first Lioness to do this and still make contact after her release. She also went on to have cubs - another remarkable event which the Adamson's followed closely and documented.

Later Years

Joy combined her knowledge and notes with George's diaries to write a book about Elsa - the book Born Free was published in 1960 and became a bestseller which lead to an academy award-winning movie. Joy went on to write 2 other books (about Elsa as a mother and her cubs), that promote conservation and raised money for wildlife.

At this point Joy and George started to pursue different interests and grow apart, although they agreed to meet up each Christmas. George had already retired as senior game warden and wanted to continue to work with Lions. Joy moved to a different area in order to rehabilitate a Cheetah cub and a Leopard cub (her experiences later led to the writing of 3 more books). Both Joy and George were involved in a number of films and documentaries.

Joy travelled widely, published artworks and more books, and lectured all over the world in the last years of her life. George also ran a Lion reintroduction programme in northern Kenya at Kora National Park. He wrote a book and worked with a number of orphaned and captive Lions including Christian the Lion. In 1980, Joy was found murdered near her camp in Shaba National Reserve, and in 1989, George was murdered by Somali bandits in Kora whilst going to the rescue of a tourist.

The Adamson Legacy

Joy and George set up or were the inspiration for a number of trusts and foundations. Royalties from books and films were also channelled into a charity set up by Joy called the Elsa Wild Animal Appeal. Later, this charity became the Elsa Conservation Trust. Both Joy and George upon their deaths bequeathed their estates to this trust. This included a lovely home they shared during their marriage called Elsamere, in Naivasha, Kenya.

Elsamere Conservation Centre

Elsamere is located on the southern shores of beautiful Lake Naivasha in the Great Rift Valley. Visitors can see many of Joy's paintings in the house and explore the museum which features memorabilia from the lives of the Adamson's - delightful teas and lunches are served here. There is guest accommodation in the grounds overlooking the lake, plus activities are available such as boating and tours to local attractions. The house is situated in a wildlife area which is also excellent for birding.

Elsamere Conservation Trust

This trust has been instrumental in many conservation and education projects. It funded the setting up of the Elsamere Centre for Education in Sustainability, established in 1989, keeping the Adamson dream alive through conservation education.


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