Life of Joy Adamson in Kenya
Joy Adamson was born in 1910 to a wealthy Austrian family, but her parents divorced when she was just ten years old. Ironically, the most favorite pastime in Joy’s family land in Austria was hunting. After shooting a deer in the estate as a teenager, she promised she would never do it again. In 1935 she married a Jew, Victor von Klarwill, who decided that to escape the rising Nazi movement, they should move to Kenya. But Klarwill made a stupid move by sending his wife ahead of him to Kenya to keep the house ready for him.
Seven hundred paintings
On the voyage, Joy met Peter Bally, and when her husband arrived, Joy announced that she would like to divorce him. Shortly afterward, in 1938, Joy married Bally, and together they traveled through Kenya, studying its plant life. She began to sketch their findings, and finally completed seven hundred paintings that she later published as several books.
Third time lucky
After a few years, Joy fell in love with a handsome game warden, George Adamson. So, soon after the second divorce, there was a third and final marriage in 1943 to Adamson. The rest of their lives the couple spent traveling together through the wilderness of Kenya.
Wildlife preservation activities
Joy Adamson was a wildlife preservationist and naturalist who spent forty years living on the game reserves of Kenya. She became deeply involved in wildlife preservation activities and is known for the films and books depicting her work in Kenya, especially her book Born Free and Spotted Sphinx.
Lioness named Elsa
In 1956, while trying to protect three cubs, George Adamson killed a lioness that attacked him. Adamson sent two of the cubs to a zoo but kept the third one, a female that they named Elsa. They rehabilitated her in Meru National Park and released her back into the wild habitat. They knew that they had been successful when Elsa was left in the wild for a week and returned after killing an African antelope and a waterbuck. In 1961, Elsa died, and they buried her in the Meru Game Reserve with a marker on her grave. Joy Adamson’s famous book Born Free tells the story of how Joy and her husband raised Elsa and then had to train it. That is how Elsa the lioness became the heroine of Joy Adamson’s most famous book Born Free.
Cheetah named Pippa
After Elsa’s death, the Adamsons adopted a cheetah named Pippa, who was the house pet of a British army officer. They trained the young cheetah for several years to survive in the wild. Another famous book of Joy titled The Spotted Sphinx tells the true story of this cheetah Pippa. A stone cairn under an acacia tree near one of the small rivers of Meru in an unmarked spot commemorates her.
Unsuccessful wildlife work
Adamson’s work with wildlife was not all successful as is evident in the case of one lion that they returned to the wilderness. They had to kill this lion because it attacked one of the servants and a child.
Founding preservation organizations
In 1962, Adamson went on a global tour to speak about wildlife preservation and founded the Elsa Wild Animal Appeal and the World Wildlife Fund. The money earned was used to set up reserves and to fund preservation organizations. She was also an activist in the movement to boycott animal fur.
End of journey
On the 3rd of January 1980, Joy Adamson died in the Shaba Game Reserve, where she had been observing leopards. They found her body near her camp, and it became apparent to the authorities and George Adamson that it was a murder. It was evident that human forces were responsible because a sword-like weapon caused the injuries and they found the contents of the trunk in her tent scattered all over the place. The most shocking thing was the explanation for her death – that a lion had killed her. Joy Adamson had written in her will that she wanted them to bury her ashes in the graves of Pippa and Elsa in the Meru Game Reserve. Accordingly, they fulfilled her last wishes at a quiet funeral ceremony held with very few close people in attendance. Although authorities convicted someone, the correct story behind Joy’s death remains a mystery.
Memory lingers on
After Joy’s death, George Adamson carried on his work alone in Meru National Park, which lies east of the Nyambeni Hills. Although it attracted many visitors annually in its heyday, the park suffered terribly at the hands of commercial poachers and was the site of some highly publicized attacks. On the 20th of August 1989, someone also murdered George Adamson along with his two co-workers.
Today, Meru National Park has close links with the lives of George and Joy Adamson. At the southeast end of the park, there is even a spring of water on the Tana River that is named Adamson’s Falls. Thankfully, Meru Park has resurged now, and the game viewing there is as excellent as before. And the work of George and Joy Adamson lives on, not only through the organizations that Joy founded, the books she wrote, and their movie adaptations, but also the heritage sites such as Narok Maa Museum and Elsamere.
Narok Maa Museum
Set on the banks of the river called Ewaso Nyiro at the Mau Escarpment, Narok is the grain capital of the country. It is worth going to the Narok Maa Museum, whose exhibits include ethnographic portraits by Joy Adamson in the 1950s. The museum is in a modest town, which is the last trace of urbanization on the way to the Mara. Therefore, these days it has become a refueling stop for almost all the safari drivers.
Home of Adamson
Elsamere in Naivasha is the former home of Joy Adamson, operating now as a museum dedicated to her with the original editions of her books – Born Free – and her paintings on display. The real treat at Elsamere is the afternoon tea set amid acacia thorns, colorful flowerbeds and beautiful lawns that attract plentiful monkeys and birds, all while enjoying the grand view of Ol Doinyo Eburu. Once a holiday home for the Adamsons, Elsamere stands as a unique destination in Naivasha.