Monday, January 23, 2012

Born Free: The Gift the Adamsons Gave the World

The year is 1966 and I'm a 3-year old toddler, oblivious to world events of historical significance. Oblivious to just about everything except the things in my little world that affect me. In 1961, just two years earlier, the Bay of Pigs invasion (or, at it's known in Latin America La Batalla de Giron) was unsuccessful in Cuba. The Berlin Wall between East Berlin and West Berlin was built, and the Soviets launched their first man into space. In the following year, 1962, a 24-year old man named Gunter Litfin was the first person killed trying to cross the Berlin Wall to freedom in West Berlin. He was a tailor seeking freedom and a better life in West Berlin and was shot on the very same day that the "shoot to kill" order was given. The Cuba missile crisis pitted the U.S. against the Soviet Union and Cuba. In California, actress Marilyn Monroe was found dead in her home.

In 1963, U.S. President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas and Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In 1964, the Civil Rights Act was passed in the U.S. while Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison in South Africa. The following year, 1965, the Los Angeles Riots gripped L.A. and New York City experienced The Great Blackout. In that same year, the U.S. began sending its first troops to Vietnam. The world saw many historical events in the 60's, many of them heartbreaking.

In 1966, the world received a gift that was both uplifting and heartwarming. It was a film, a true story about a lion cub named Elsa and the amazing husband and wife team who raised her, George and Joy Adamson. Through this story, the world temporarily forgot about world events; assassinations, imprisonment, war, poverty, hate crimes, and violence. What is perhaps most ironic is that this heartwarming story took place in one of the cruelest and most violent landscapes that exists: the wild animal kingdom of Africa. It is an achingly beautiful yet violent place where survival of the fittest is the only thing that matters, no matter how heartbreaking it may be when it occurs.

Through this little lioness, the world saw that the King of the Jungle was also capable of great character, attachment, warmth, and love. The film encouraged the world to care about wildlife, its well-being, and its future. It raised unprecedented awareness around the world. People everywhere were fascinated by this amazing man and woman who were not only living in the African bush, but also raising a wild lion. As the popularity of the Adamsons grew, the world discovered just how special these two individuals really were. The story of George and Joy and their love for this lion was exactly what the world needed in 1966.

George and Elsa at the riverbank

Thank you, George and Joy, for the precious gift of your story. You gave a wonderful gift to the world not only through the story of Elsa, but also through your continued work in wildlife conservation. Your memory will be kept alive through those lucky enough to have heard your message and understood the importance of what you had to say.

L to R: Virginia McKenna, George Adamson, 
Bill Travers, Joy Adamson

For the most comprehensive website about George Adamson, please visit
Visit the George Adamson Wildlife Preservation Trust:
The Born Free website can be found here:

Watch Elsa's Legacy on PBS: Elsa's Legacy

Animals Matter.

George and Elsa

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