By Lidiya Angelova
Books can provide a personal connection and allow us to live vicariously through others’ experiences. While I have never had any direct contact with the African countryside, the books of Joy Adamson where she recounts her life as a naturalist in Kenya enabled me to feel as if I was experiencing the same adventures alongside the author. Adamson’s stories, photos and paintings inspired generations of people, including myself, to love, respect, and protect the wildlife in its natural habitat.
Born as Friedenrike Victoria Gessner in Troppau, a region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Joy Adamson, was the middle of three sisters. Hunting was popular in her family, but after she shot a deer herself, she decided that she would never do it again. She was a creative child who wanted to be a pianist and painter, and later studied medicine, but she didn’t finish her education. Instead, she married and moved to Africa to escape the unstable political situation near her home. She made the trip by herself at first and after she arrived, she met a botanist named Peter Bally. Bally later became her second husband. As his wife, she fulfilled one of her childhood dreams by painting pictures of the plants that he investigated. These paintings were published in several different books. Adamson later divorced Bally and married a game warden who was stationed at the Northern Frontier District in Kenya.
Her story as a wildlife guardian started by accident. Her husband shot and killed a lioness after the animal attacked him. He did not realize that the lioness was protecting three cubs. Joy and her husband raised all 3 cubs until they became too big to be handled by them and their helpers. Two of the cubs were sent to a zoo, but Elsa, who was the runt of the pride, was too weak to handle the long journey. Joy and her husband decided to train the little lioness to be able to live as a wild animal. They succeeded and Elsa became an independent wild lion.
The journey of raising the weak orphan cub into the queen of the jungle became the basis for Adamson’s bestselling book: Born Free. Joy continued observing Elsa’s life and after Elsa suffered an accidental death, Joy stepped in to raise her cubs as well. These events became the basis of the book, Born Free - Living Free and Forever Free. Adamson’s natural story telling talent in combination with her own photos made her a famous writer across the globe. Elsa’s story was adapted into a successful movie and tv series. The lioness wasn’t just a wild animal for Joy and her followers. Elsa became a symbol of the idea that wild animals have their place in nature alongside humans, but humans have a responsibility to protect them and their habitats.
Not long after Elsa's cubs were released in the wild, Joy became a “mom” of another big cat – a seven-month-old cheetah kept as a house pet. Her story can be found in The Spotted Sphinx. This is actually the first book written by Joy Adamson that I read. I remember being captivated by every word, every emotion and step of the journey in making a wild animal raised by humans become independent again. I felt Joy's determination and desire to return Pippa to her true place in nature, despite that life as a wild animal is more unpredictable and challenging than as a pet. The fascinating story of Pippa and her family is presented in the next book, Pippa's Challenge.
Joy continued to work with big cats, which led to another book that I greatly enjoyed - Queen of Shaba. It is the story of an orphaned leopard cub, Penny, and how she adapted to life in the wild.
Joy Adamson’s books are not only about the wildlife in Africa. They share important life lessons gained by a woman who abandoned her easy city life for the challenges of the jungle. Joy's books’ popularity helped the world to realise that uncontrolled illegal hunting endangers wildlife. She used the profits of her books to travel around the world and speak about the trials of Africa’s natural world, and she established funds to support preservation organizations such as the World Wildlife Fund and Elsa Wild Animal Appeal. She, like many other wildlife protectors, was killed while helping her wild friends. The initial claim speculated that she was killed by a lion, but the subsequent investigation determined that her injuries were manmade. Greed resulted in the tragic death of an astonishing person, but her legacy is still alive. Her life story inspired generations of conservationists who, in spite of the danger to their own lives, won’t give up so that future generations will have the opportunity to experience animals in their native habitat. Joy Adamson showed the world that a wellborn lady from another continent can radically change the perspective about wildlife in Africa and around the globe.
*Not all her books can be found in hard copies but all are available online and I hope after my review more people will want to have Elsa and Pipa in their lives.
About the Author
Lidiya’s curiosity about “how life works” led her to complete a Master’s degree in Biology and a PhD in Microbiology. After working for a few years as a researcher at the National Institute of Health in Rockville, MD, USA, followed by a career in science communications and writing, she is looking forward to going back to the lab where can apply her fresh, new ideas. Lidiya loves to travel and has lived in many countries. She is still looking for a place to settle down with her young daughter. Lidiya is thrilled to be a part of the Scientista bloggers team, and loves being able to connect with wonderful female scientists at all stages of their careers, while writing about science and life.
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