Remembering The Lion Man From Kenya – George Adamson Memorial – 31yrs later.
George Adamson fondly known as ‘Baba ya Simba’ was born on 3rd Feb 1906, in Ettawah, India(then British India).
He moved to Kenya in 1924 to work on his Father’s coffee plantation. Working at the plantation was boring for George as it didn’t tickle his adventurous spirit so he tried several other jobs before finally joining the Kenya wildlife service in 1938 as a Game Warden. George loved his job as a Warden and thrived in it. In 1944, George married Joy Adamson and together they continued with conservation work.
George and Joy Adamson became famous in 1966 when the World famous movie ‘Born Free’ was released. The movie revolves around the true story of Elsa, a lioness that the couple rescued in 1956 and raised her since when she was a cub before releasing her back to the wild in the first ever successful story of a had raised lion being successfully released back to the wild. Born Free was a very captivating movie, loved all over the World especially by people who are passionate about wildlife and conservation. The movie was based on a book written by Joy Adamson based on the true life experience of raising Elsa the Lioness.
The movie ‘Born Free’ also put Kenya’s Meru National park on the World map. Meru is where Elsa the lioness was raised and later buried at Elsa’s grave inside the park when she died of tick-borne disease in 1961.
Elsa the Lioness
In February 1956, the Adamson’s acquired three lion cubs after their Mother died. Elsa’s Mother had charged at George Adamson whilst he was out in the bush and when he shot and killed the Lioness in self defense, he realized that the lioness had actually just been protecting its cubs. George Adamson then took home the three little cubs. Two of the cubs named Lustica and ‘the big one’ were later taken to a zoo in the Netherlands but George and Joy kept the smallest cub whom they had named Elsa. Elsa the lioness was intelligent and trusting. She would not only change George and Joy’s lives but through subsequent books, movies and films, Elsa promoted an enormous interest in conservation with the general public. When Elsa was about three, the Adamson’s decided to teach her to hunt and introduce her back into the wild. This kind of project had never been attempted before. Elsa was encouraged to develop her instincts to hunt and hard as it was for Elsa to survive in the wild, Elsa succeeded and remarkably continued her bond of trust and affection with the Adamson’s. She remained their beloved friend until her unfortunate death from what was believed to be a tick borne disease in 1961 when she was just 5yrs old. She died with her head on George’s lap, bringing much grief to George. After burying Elsa, George and his scouts fired 20 volleys of shots over her grave in the hopes that her mate may have heard them and paused. Elsa is buried in Meru National Park near the river and to this day many visitors to Meru still go to visit her grave and pay their respect.
Over the years, KWS has kept the grave well maintained with a good road network heading to there. At Elsa’s grave, a poem engraved on the stone remains many years later still echoing the love Joy and George Adamson had for Elsa. The beautiful engraved poem reads:
“The wind the wind the heavenly child is fanning the solitary stone. It strokes and caresses in the moonlit night. And watches over the mysterious deep. Wind, wind the heavenly child, secret are thy ways”
George Adamson retired in 1961 as a KWS Senior Warden and decided to fully devote his time into rehabilitating and raising lions and later releasing them to the wild. In 1970, George moved to Kora National park and continued with the Lion rehabilitation project. He lived at Kampi ya Simba which is an exclusive camp inside Kora National park.
Kora is fondly referred to as ‘Kenya’s last wilderness’ and remains truly wild to date. Kora’s pristine wilderness spans for 1,787sq km making it the third largest National park in Kenya after Tsavo East and Tsavo West. Kora was gazette as a National park in 1989 in honor of George Adamson after his murder on 20th Aug 1989. Before this gazettement, it had been a nature reserve since 1973. George chose Kampi ya Simba as his home, and this camp sits deep inside Kora surrounded by amazing inselbergs and vast wild vegetation. George preferred the rugged bush life and loved living in harmony with nature and his lions. He had an amazing relationship with the lions which no other man has been able to have over the years. Him and the Lions lived as best friends in a unique animal-human relationship.
Next to Kampi ya Simba is ‘Kora rock’, a huge inselberg standing tall at 442M. Kora rock is where George used to take his lions for a walk and they would climb to the top and enjoy a vintage view of the park. Kora rock is also the spot where the World famous ‘Christian the Lion’ reunited with his former owners John Rendall and Ace Bourke in 1971 after he had spent a year roaming wild and free in Kora despite having been raised as a captive Lion before in London. Christian was now all grown up and living as a wild lion with his own pride but he still remembered his former owners and affectionately hugged and embraced them. The sensational clip of this amazing reunion is one of the most watched clips on Youtube.
George Adamson was unfortunately killed by Somali bandits on 20th Aug 1989 in Kora, as he headed to the airstrip to pick his friends. George was buried near Kampi ya Simba at a grave site next to his brother Terrence, and two of his favorite lions named Boy and Super cub. The grave site remains intact to date and now has an additional grave of a lion named Mugie who was the most recent attempt of the Lion rehabilitation project in 2012 although Mugie was sadly killed by a pack of hyenas in Kora.
George was also an author and had several books on his sleeve i.e ‘A lifetime with lions’, ‘My pride and Joy’, ‘Bwana Game’, and ‘Christian the Lion’. In one of his books, the famous words that best describe George are derived from there. He asks:
‘’Who will now care for the animals, for they cannot look after themselves? Are there young men and women who are willing to take on this charge? Who will raise their voices, when mine is carried away on the wind, to plead their case?”
Every year, the Kenya Wildlife Service holds a memorial day at the Kora National Park to commemorate the Legendary George Adamson for his dedication to conservation which spans for many decades.
However, due to the effects of the Covid 19 pandemic, this memorial event was sadly not held in 2020. It would have been his 31st Memorial filled with memorable activities at the Kora National Park. George Adamson however remains etched in our hearts and minds despite there not being the memorial event and we hope the event will be back in 2021.
We will keep you updated on the Memorial event in 2021.
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