George Adamson

We all need inspiration in our lives

George Adamson

‘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 ve
ry 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.

Born Free Film

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.

George Adamson and Lions

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.

Born Free’s Year of the Lion

Blogging off


18 Responses to “George Adamson”

  1. Mia Says:

    It’s hard to believe it’s been that long…Still gives me chills when I sing that song in my head. He made such an impression on me as a child. Lifelong animal lover/advocate. Is there something missing in modern humans, that would ever make you want to hurt an innocent creature? I’m glad I’m not one of them :) Thanks for still fighting and advocating for them!!

  2. Corinna Pike Says:

    Dear Will,
    A most heartfelt inspirational story, the Born Free and George’s legacy must live on, and we all will support together to ensure it does. Thank you for your determination and to the BBF, for never giving up despite the harrowing obstacles in protecting wildlife. Our world would be a dreadful place without them; lions, tigers, elephants, rhinos, giraffes, etc, these majestic icons and all creatures great and small, deserve respect to live in their natural habitat.
    Thank you for all the wonderful work you are doing to highlight these issues….. and to George, Joy and Elsa, who are in our hearts forever, with sincere thanks to Bill and Virginia.
    With kind regards,
    Corinna Pike

  3. Corinna Pike Says:

    Apologies typo above …… should be BFF

  4. Elinor Says:

    Such a wonderful and very moving blog to read. As you say, George Adamson was such an incredible human being and did so much for the beautiful lions. Reading this makes you really think about what is important in life. If more people were like George, then we wouldn’t have half the problems we face today. I would have given anything to meet George, by reading this it helps me to imagine what that would have been like. Your descriptions bring it all to life.
    Also, your family are a real inspiration and again, have done so much to protect wildlife who desperately need our help. The sad thing is, more often than not, it is the human race, or some of the human race who have caused their suffering. Thank goodness there are incredible people like you and your wonderful mother still saving and protecting desperate animals. Thank you for all your tireless and wonderful work, I really think George would be so proud of you and that to me would be a real honour. Well done.

  5. Kate Snowdon Says:

    The world seems smaller and colder without these conservation heroes, who seem to symbolise a kind of innocence and optimism only possible in a time before globalisation, optimisation and corporation. I hope their legacies can continue to capture the imagination of people all over the world to fight for what small amount of ‘wild’ and ‘untouched’ the earth still has left!

  6. Beth Says:

    The greatest honour-is to be remembered.

  7. Jacqui Newbold Says:

    What a beautifully written piece. He was indeed a wonderful man once he found his way and the world is a sadder place for his passing
    Trophy hunting can never be justified. It is cruel and a dreadful waste of life and it saddens me when I hear of children being encouraged, by their parents, to kill for fun. What sort of a world are we creating. Rest in peace George. X

  8. Linda Says:

    Born free was my favorite movie growing up and still is to this day. I’ve probably watched 100 times and cry throughout every single time, it breaks my heart to see all the trophy hunting and killing of these beautiful, majestic animals. I wish that every trophy Hunter grew up watching Born free. Maybe they would think differently about killing animals.

  9. Lazarou Outi Says:

    With loving thoughts having Elsa, Pippa, Boy, Christian and all the others in our harts, and praying for wild life round the world! hoping people to wake up and start to work together to save this planet of ours! many, many best wishes to you all – God bless you!

  10. cynthia smith Says:

    Born Free was such an inspiration for me as a young girl….and still is…thank you for carrying that torch ~~ peace

  11. Dawn Mello Says:

    It seems the people of Africa do not want peace with the lions like George had. Truly sad.

  12. Karen Says:

    Thank you Will for sharing your beautiful memory of George! Born Free was a movie that made a huge impact on me as a little girl and I had forgotten about it for many years until 1 week before Cecil’s horrific death. I thought about the movie out of the blue and had an immediate desire to watch it and share the book with my children! In the process a strange obsession in reading more about George and Joy’s experiences in Africa. I have read His books and feel an incredible sadness that this beautiful, selfless person is no longer with us, no longer with his lions. His question on who will take care of the lions still challenges us all? I now try to fill my day as much as I can to share awareness of the dire situation of the lions and elephants and rhinos, etc. Thank you Will for all that you do for the animals and for your inspiration to us all who feel so deeply and passionately about all wildlife animals! My bucket list includes a visit to Elsa’s grave and I hope that it will come sooner than later! 😜
    Karen Bates

  13. Jeanie Says:

    Thank you for reminding me of George’s work and legacy. A truly moving article. I too shudder to think what all those who are sadly gone now would think of our wildlife world today

  14. Diane Mulloy Says:

    I was truly honoured to have met George at Kora along with Terence and Tony in 1983
    George was my hero as a child and it was my ambition to meet him one day. This I did as quite by chance I had a very close friend whose name was Ulli who turned out to be Georges niece!!.I travelled to Kora as a young woman intent on meeting her childhood idol and fulfilled my lifetime ambition by meeting and staying with George in Kora. Thank you Will for all that you do .George would be so proud of you and Virginia and Bill for what you have achieved and so sad for the diminishing lions of Africa.

  15. Shirley Says:

    Thank you for this genuine remembrance of a truly great man. May his life inspire generations to come.

  16. Wilson Says:

    Well, I came about the Adamson’s on a visit to friend when I saw a shredded book of theirs ( Elsa). I was captivated by the story, even since when I came a close that name I’m stucked. What great people they were, I can’t believe they both didn’t came to see their natural death. They may long gone but their spirit and works will remain forever.

  17. Corinna Schürmann Says:

    I visited Kenya in 2013 to “see” ELSA, my childhood dream. I was really suprised, how many ordinary people still remember the Adamsons and ELSA. Afterwards, I absorbed every book written by them. Born Free Foundation will keep them “alive”. Don’t you worry about that!

  18. Animals Life NET Says:

    What a huge inspiration! People like Mr. Adamson have encouraged and are still motivating so many people of all ages, as well as numerous organizations and projects (such as ourselves) to help preserve wildlife and protect animal rights. Thanks for the article!