11 April 2013

Born Free


Synopsis: This is the original story of Elsa, the famous lioness who was raised as a pet by Kenya Game Warden George Adamson and his wife Joy Adamson, and then trained by them to fend for herself in the wild. By allowing her always to be free, the Adamsons enabled Elsa to live a natural lion’s life, to mate and produce a litter of cubs in the jungle, and still remain on affectionate terms with man.

First line: For many years my home has been in the Northern Frontier Province of Kenya, that vast stretch of semi-arid thornbush, covering some hundred and twenty-thousand square miles, which extends from Mount Kenya to the Abyssinian border.

Stats for my copy: Mass market paperback, published by Vintage Books, A Division of Random House, 1974; 222 pages; purchased at a library book sale.

My thoughts: The author’s husband, in his duties as a game warden, was forced to shoot a lioness as she attacked. He then found her three young cubs (and felt great remorse at having killed their mother) and took them home. Two of the cubs were eventually sent to a zoo, but the smallest, Elsa, stayed on as a member of the household.

The bond between Elsa and the Adamsons is incredible. While raising Elsa as a pet, they rarely kept her penned up or chained and gave her a lot of freedom to still act like a lion. She was very loving and affectionate to them, and to other people who came into contact with her. You can almost feel the love that Joy and Elsa shared, and Elsa’s personality comes through very clearly. The descriptions of her playful antics are amusing, and it’s an interesting peek also at life in the bush.

When the time inevitably came, Joy and George made the hard decision to release Elsa into the wild. After finding a suitable location, they spent a lot of time teaching Elsa to hunt for herself. They would make camp, spend time with Elsa, and then leave her on her own for a day, then a couple of days, then a week at a time. She was always happy to see them on their return, while at the same time growing more and more self-sufficient.

Even after being in the wild on her own for several months, Elsa would still get very excited when George and Joy visited her, showing them much affection and wanting to play with them. But she also grew more independent, and began to show signs of wanting them to leave her alone, and her transition from family pet to wild lioness was successful.

A heartwarming and well written story, with lots of pictures (in my edition of the book anyway), and now I want to watch the movie again.

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