In the heart of Meru National Park – East of Meru, there is told a legendary narrative of Elsa the lioness.
The park having been gazetted in 1968, covers an area of 870 square kilometers and has been home to one of the most diverse flora and fauna.
The movie Born Free premiered in the year 1966 and gained massive international recognition, making cinematic history, based on Lioness Elsa together with George and Joey Adamson. This couple spent time with hand-raised Elsa in her days between 1956 and 1961.
‘I am Joy Adamson and for many years, my home has been in the northern province of Kenya where my husband George was a senior game warden. One of his duties was to deal with dangerous animals who were a menace to either human life or crops. One time, we were on a safari in the Borana region, where a man-eating lion had been reported.’ Joy narrates as the movie begins.
Her husband George moved swiftly but gently in the company of several Borana locals targeting the man-eating lion. From behind the rocks, a male lion appeared agitating toward George. With military precision, George aimed his rifle toward the lion and shot him dead. A split second later, a lioness appeared and in the same manner agitated towards George and was shot. The surrounding air was tense momentarily with the local Borana men holding onto their spears and arrows and staring at the supposed dead lion couple.
George being still high on alert, heard gentle purrs, hums, and growls from behind the rocks. Moving cautiously, he saw a group of three young days-old lion cubs. He realized he had just orphaned the cubs he saw. He picked all three cubs, carefully placed them at the back of his truck, bade the locals goodbye, and drove to where they had pitched camp.
‘You’ve been very successful, haven’t you?’ asked Joy as She welcomed George, seeing he had two dead adult lions on top of his truck.
‘Joy, can you spare a minute?’ George asked.
‘Yes, I suppose so. What is it?’ Joy responded, rather perplexed.
‘I have a little something for you.’ George said as he led her to the back of the truck to show her the young cubs.
‘Do they belong to those two up there?’ she sadly asked while pointing up at the truck.
‘Yes. We had to kill the mother and father. I’m sorry they almost attacked us but we didn’t know why until it was too late.’
‘Poor little dears. Come here darlings.’ Joy responded as she reached out for the cubs to have a hold of them.
‘Careful! One of them gave me a first-class scratch. Not very good-tempered, are they?’ George cautioned.
‘Neither are you when you’re hungry. I don’t suppose you’ve fed them.’
‘I can’t say I have. You didn’t pack any lion’s milk before I left.’ George answered sarcastically.
That was the beginning of George and Joy taming young lions and having them as, sort of, pets.
Joy and George went out of their way to give these cubs the utmost care while widely consulting on how to bring up lions. As fate would have it, of the three cubs, they gained interest in one female lion and named her Elsa. Her two siblings were then transported to a zoo in Australia since there were no gazetted parks in Kenya at the time.
Elsa became of age and George and Joy found it a necessity to re-introduce her to the wild. Elsa would go to the wild, roam daylong and eventually come back to the couple in the evening. This went on for a while. The interactions between the Adamsons and Elsa demonstrated how intelligent and affectionate lions could be towards humans.
Eventually, Elsa managed to be fully assimilated into the wild. She joined a territory of an alpha male that made her pregnant and eventually had cubs. As her tradition, she visited Joy and George with the cubs often. Joy had the delight a mother usually has when she receives grandchildren. From how she had experienced difficulty in re-introducing Elsa to the wild, she vowed not to have the cubs domesticated.
In the year 1961, Elsa the lioness was infested with ticks and sadly succumbed. Her cubs roamed into the wild and settled in Serengeti National Park where they had a life of their own. In the heart of Meru National Park is established Elewana Elsa’s Kopje Lodge in honor of Elsa the lioness.
Since the initial publication of Born Free and its sequels Living Free and Forever Free, generations of avid readers have been enchanted, inspired, and captivated by these books’ uplifting charm and the remarkable interaction between the Adamsons and Elsa. Millions have also come to know and love Born Free through the immortal film Born Free starring Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers.