“Since we humans have the better brain, isn’t it our responsibility to protect our fellow creatures from, oddly enough, ourselves?” – Joy Adamson
106 years ago to this day, Friederike Victoria Gessner, more famously known as Joy Adamson, was born. An author, painter, and animal activist, Joy Adamson spent the majority of her life educating the world about the importance of preserving wildlife, specifically that in Africa.
A strong-willed woman with a passion for animals, she lived in Kenya for nearly 4 decades with her equally famous wildlife conservationist husband, George Adamson. Together, the two fought for wildlife preservation and inspired the world with their work with big game in Africa.
As we celebrate what would’ve been Joy Adamson’s 106th birthday, we look back on her greatest achievements in the natural world.
Her Rehabilitating of Animals – What is probably the Adamson’s most notorious accomplishment, and one that would gain them world-wide recognition, was their work with rehabilitating animals back into the wild, specifically the lioness Elsa. In 1956, after her mother was shot by George Adamson in self-defense, the Adamsons took in little cub Elsa.
Joy and George then spent the next years raising Elsa, training her to become a self-relying lioness, and eventually releasing her back into the wild where she went on to have 3 cubs of her own. Through her experiences Joy stated that Elsa “became almost like my child. Because I had no children, I have spent all my emotion on her and my other animals. But I cannot make them my own.”
Chronicling their work with Elsa and her cubs in three books (which all eventually had movies made about them), Joy Adamson inspired millions around the world and taught the importance of preserving wildlife, and keeping the animals in their natural environments.
After Elsa and her cubs, Joy Adamson went on to adopt a young cheetah named Pippa, who was previously being used as a house pet. Adamson did the same with Pippa as she had done with Elsa and trained her to survive on her own in the wild, eventually releasing Pippa as well. Joy continued studying and working with all sorts of African animals including elephants, buffaloes, colobus monkeys, and leopards.
Her Writings – What helped Joy Adamson to inspire the world about Africa and its animals was undoubtedly her writings. Throughout the years she published many books about the different animals she rehabilitated, along with books of her drawings and sketches of African wildlife and plants.
Joy Adamson’s most popular book, Born Free (which she writes about her experience with Elsa), earned her a great amount of recognition and success that because of it, she was able to focus on raising money for wildlife conservation.
Born Free, along with the two sequels Living Free and Forever Free (both which Joy continues the story of Elsa and her cubs), were all made into movies. The actors of the films, Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, were so inspired by the roles they played and the real life work Joy and George Adamson did, that they eventually founded the Born Free Foundation in the United Kingdom which helps support wildlife conservation.
Her Wildlife Preservation – Joy Adamson’s passion and love for animals was obvious with her activism. Setting off on an international tour in 1962, Joy preached the importance of wildlife conservation, and the damage that illegal poaching was doing to Africa and its animal inhabitants, especially in her adopted home of Kenya.
Joy also went on to create the Elsa Wild Animal Appeal, and her work with animals, especially Elsa, helped inspire many more conservation organizations. She spent her remaining years giving the proceeds she earned from her books to many preservation organizations and using it to secure the conservation of animals and wildlife.
It’s no doubt the lengths and efforts Joy Adamson went to protect and preserve animals and their environment. Tragically, both Joy and George were murdered (separate incidents and years – Joy in 1980 by an employee, and George in 1989 by poachers), so both of their work was cut short.
However, the impact they had on animal activism still lives on today. Because of Joy Adamson and her work, writings, and contributions, the world is just a little bit more understanding of the plight wildlife must face at the hands of humans. We must continue her work, and remember her words: “Wildlife is something which man cannot construct. Once it is gone, it is gone forever. Man can rebuild a pyramid, but he can’t rebuild ecology, or a giraffe.”
So, Happy Birthday, Joy. And thank you for the impact you made on the animal kingdom.