A couple of days back I came across a wonderful site: Fatheroflions.org. It was about the great George Adamson and brought back many wonderful and heart-rending memories of the great human being. The website contains lots of great pictures and information about the remarkable man.
The Father of Lions, George Adamson was one of the greatest conservationists of all time. He was a man beyond his time - a hero whose devotion to Africa's lions stands unparalleled. He sacrificed his entire life for the preservation and well being of the endangered lions of Africa - battling against poachers, bandits, bureaucracy and his own frailty of age, just to preserve the habitat - the fauna and flora of Kenya's untamed wilderness.
George Alexander Graham Adamson was born on February 3rd 1906 in Etawah, British India. His mother Katherine was English and father Harry was Irish. After education in Britain, George and his brother Terrance moved to Kenya to work on a coffee plantation. This lifestyle, however, didn't suit the adventurous nature of George and after trying various ventures like goat trading and gold prospecting, he eventually accepted the position of warden in Kenya's Game Department in 1938. In 1942 he married the Austrian artist Joy Bally. Together, the nature loving couple lived happily in their exquisite surroundings.
It was not until 1956 that fate brought an unexpected twist that would change forever the lives of Adamsons. Early that year, George learned that a maneating lion was terrorizing some villages. George and his party went in pursuit of the male lion and killed the maneater. Just then, the lioness burst out of nowhere and charged them unexpectedly - leaving the men no option but to shoot her. It was only later that George learned the reason for the lionesses' aggression - her three newborn cubs.
Knowing fully well that the cubs wouldn't survive on their own in the wild, George brought the three baby lionesses to their home where he and Joy tried several recipes, until finally they could develop a formula for lion's milk that the cubs accepted and fed upon. With time the young cubs grew into adorable and playful little lions, bringing much happiness to George and Joy who would never have a child of their own with Joy having three miscarriages over the course of their marriage.
As the cubs grew, it became evident that they could no longer stay as cuddly pets and thus the elder two were sent to Rotterdam zoo in Netherlands - an excellent facility where George visited them years later. The youngest sibling, named Elsa, was kept after insistence of Joy who, despite all the conventional wisdom and advice - set out on a near impossible task of making a nearly domesticated lion wild. This had never been done before. George supported Joy in her decision and together the two set out to teach Elsa how to hunt and fend for herself in the African bush.
After many months of great hard work and dedication, Elsa finally made her first kill. After some time she learned how to interact with other lions as well and was able to finally be truly independent in the wild - being able to 'live free' after having been 'born free'. This remarkable tale was soon cinematized and brought much fame and limelight upon George and Joy. Humble as ever, George sidestepped most of the attention and began his long and somewhat lone journey towards conserving the population of wild lions of the region. Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna who played the parts of George and Joy respectively in the Oscar winning film Born Free became great animal lovers and lifelong friends of George.
George continued his work with lions in the Meru National Park in the Northern Frontier Province of Kenya. Sadly, at just five years of age Elsa died of what was believed to be a tick disease, breathing her last in George's lap - bringing much grief to a man who would experience many more heart breaking moments in his life. Only five years after the release of the movie, George had to retire from his position of senior game warden after one of his lions 'Boy' mauled the son of another warden.
George was removed from the park and he was allowed only to take his lions to the remote scorching lands of a hitherto unknown place called Kora. Soon afterwards, in 1970, George and Joy separated as a couple though they continued to spend Christmas together with George still retaining much love and fondness for his wife.
In 1980 Joy Adamson was murdered. The brutal killer was a servant whom she had suspended after he was found stealing. The same year Terrance was mauled by a lion and Kenyan government put a halt to George's program of introducing tame and orphaned lions to the wild.
In 1981, after some reconsideration the government allowed George and his assistant Tony Fitzjohn to initiate a leopard training program. However, they could do little as poachers and bandits ravaged the wildlife of Kenya, killing elephants for their tusks, rhinoceres for their horns, leopards for their pelts - terrorizing conservationists and the poor animals alike. George continued to fight and speak for the rights of animals, facing constant threats from poachers and Somali bandits as well as cattle grazers who were destroying the land of lions' natural prey, forcing the herds to migrate and lions to starve to death.
On August 20, 1989 some European tourists were scheduled to visit Kora. En route to George's camp, they were attacked by Somali bandits and savagely beaten and robbed. George went to their rescue in his land rover. He was shot twice by the bandits - once in his thigh and then in his back - and died immediately. Two other workers were also murdered. The killers stole George's watch before leaving. In the days following George's murder, hundreds of policemen were sent to the scene of crime and some arrests made.
Today Kora is protected by rangers as a national park. George lays buried alongside his favorite lions in his deserted compound of thatched huts. Locals and past servants in neighboring villages still fondly remember him. Lion paw prints are often seen near George's final resting place...
George Adamson was a man unlike any the world has ever seen. He understood lions better than anybody ever has done and spent his entire life walking and living alongside the majestic cats. He loved them more than life itself and eventually had to pay with his life the price for making the lion free and wild again. His work generated the public interest and awareness that led in many ways to the return from brink of extinction of most of Africa's endangered big game.
Some time before his death, George wrote ~
"Who will now care for the animals, for they cannot look after themselves? Are there young men and women who are willing to take on this charge? Who will raise their voices, when mine is carried away on the wind, to plead their case?"