We all need inspiration in our lives
‘It is hard to believe that on 20th August it will be the 27th anniversary of George Adamson’s murder. I have so many memories of him – all very personal and all shared with my late husband Bill. George was one of our closest friends; he introduced us to a world that has remained part of our lives ever after. A world in which people and wild animals can live in harmony, providing we respect and understand them.
Today we are overwhelmed by violence, anger, suffering – hard sometimes to be optimistic. But as long as there are people like George in our hearts and minds, we should never despair.
Bill and I went to George’s funeral in Kora, Kenya. We all mourned the passing of a kind and modest man – and the next day lions came and sat by his grave.’ – Virginia McKenna, Founder Trustee Born Free Foundation.
We all need inspiration in our lives. Motivation to try harder, dig deeper, push further.
The Olympics inspires: whether its gymnastics, diving, rowing, running, sailing, jumping, sprinting, throwing, hitting, – every four years we are glued to our televisions, radios, tablets and smart phones as we watch the pinnacle of human sporting prowess do things that amaze – and inspire!
This reminds me of other figures who inspire, figures from the world of wildlife and conservation.
On the 20th August 1989, George Adamson was murdered. Driving to the rescue of a guest who had been attacked by bandits near the Kora airstrip in a remote part of northern Kenya, George drew his pistol, revved the engine and, along with two of his assistants, was subsequently shot dead. The bandits fled.
To many, including myself, the life of George Adamson symbolises a journey that we all make. A journey of discovery and revelation. As someone who was once a hunter and traded elephant ivory, George discovered his true inner-self working to give first Elsa (along with his wife Joy) the chance of a wild and free life and then over 20 other lions.
As a very small boy I met him near the ‘set’ of the film Born Free in 1964, when my mother and father, Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, took nearly a year retelling the story of George, Joy and Elsa for the big screen.
I met him again in the 1970’s when, as a family, we spent an extraordinary Christmas with George, his brother Terence and Tony Fitzjohn at Kora, wearing paper hats, eating mince pies, watched by lions.
I saw him again when Dad and I paid him a visit and watched as this small, seemingly frail but incredibly resilient man threw tasty morsels to six adult lions gathered round the back of his car.
There was a further opportunity to experience George’s world when, with a friend, I delivered a donated sky-blue Land Rover to his little camp in the immense rocky shadow of the 500 foot high ‘Kora Tit’ and spent an unimaginable week looking for – and finding – George’s pride of wild lions.
Finally, in the mid-1980’s George came to our family home in Surrey, to recuperate from an eye operation and to write (or rather record in conversation with my father) his final book My Pride and Joy. The manuscript was typed by my then wife and I on an old typewriter (no computers or spell-check) but it was George’s arrival at the house that shall always stay with me. Dressed in a brown tweed suit, George came into the living room and Dad offered him a whisky. Realising that George had not seen colour TV before (it was still new and exciting way back then) we turned the television on… and stood transfixed. The Des O’Connor Show… Des on stage with a guest singer…. The singer was Matt Monro… the song was Born Free. It still sends shivers up my spine.
George lived his dream. It was a life of simplicity and modest needs, far from the modern world, harsh yet beautiful, in a wilderness he was determined to protect and with creatures who needed his guiding hand. He inspired and attracted many people who wanted to find out his secret but there was none, unless it be: To be true, and generous, and kind – to treat each living animal with respect and compassion.
What George would have made of the crisis facing lions across Africa, I shudder to think. Just 20,000 lions left when there seemed to be so many. His reaction to the on-going trophy hunting of lions, supported by some of the world’s largest conservation organisations, would have been one of sheer disbelief and horror. And he would have been far too much of a gentleman to put in writing his opinion of those who oppose the listing of lions on CITES Appendix I – his look of utter disgust would have been enough.
Along with my late father, and a handful of extraordinary individuals, sadly gone and deeply missed, George, The Father of Lions, remains my inspiration. We shall not see their like again.
George’s Legacy is one that we hold dear to our hearts at the Born Free Foundation. Caring for individual animals; believing that Compassionate Conservation is the way forward; determined to protect wild nature at all costs; and to end the exploitation of wild animals in captivity. Help us keep the spirit of Elsa burning bright.