George Adamson, Tony Fitzjohn & Gareth Paterson - lions
Species champions | Conservationists | Field Experts
Each of the names below are linked in time and place with lions (and George Adamson). Each has dedicated his life to this species, and others, each in their own way. We salute them.
GEORGE ADAMSON'S STORY
George Adamson MBE (3 February 1906 – 20 August 1989), also known as the Baba ya Simba ("Father of Lions" in Swahili), was a Kenyan wildlife conservationist and author. He and his wife, Joy, are best known through the movie Born Free and best-selling book with the same title, which is based on the true story of Elsa the Lioness, an orphaned lioness cub they had raised and later released into the wild. Several other films have been made based on Adamson's life.
George Alexander Graham Adamson was born 3 February 1906 in Etawah, India to British parents. Educated at Dean Close School, Cheltenham, England, he moved to Kenya in 1925. After a series of jobs, which included time as a gold prospector, goat trader and professional safari hunter, he joined Kenya's game department in 1938 and was Senior Wildlife Warden of the Northern Frontier District. Six years later, he married Joy. It was in 1956 that he raised the lioness cub, Elsa, whom he helped to release into the wild and who became the subject of the 1966 feature film Born Free based on the book written by Joy.
Adamson retired as a wildlife warden in 1961 and devoted himself to raising lions who could not look after themselves, and training them to survive in the wild. In 1970, he moved to the Kora National Reserve in northern Kenya to continue the rehabilitation of captive or orphaned big cats for eventual reintroduction into the wild. George and Joy separated in 1970, but continued to spend Christmas holidays together until she was murdered on 3 January 1980.
On 20 August 1989, George Adamson was murdered near his camp in Kora National Park, by Somali bandits, when he went to the rescue of his assistant and a young European tourist in the Kora National Park. He was 83 years old. He is buried in the Kora National Park near his brother Terance. Two lions are buried next to Adamson as well: Super Cub, and Mugie, a lion released in Kora after George's death.
Bwana Game: The Life Story of George Adamson, Collins & Harvill (April 1968), ISBN 978-0-00-261051-3
My Pride and Joy: Autobiography, The Harvill Press (22 September 1986), ISBN 978-0-00-272518-7
Many films were made throughout (and about) George Adamson's life:
- Born Free (1966), based on the book of the same name by Joy Adamson about Elsa the Lioness, that was rehabilitated into the wild, but remained in a friendly relationship with the Adamsons. The film stars Virginia McKenna as Joy Adamson and Bill Travers as George Adamson. George Adamson served as Chief Technical Advisor.
- The Lions Are Free (1967) is the true story of what happened to the lions Boy, Girl, Ugas, Mara, Henrietta and Little Elsa, and other lions which starred in the popular film classic Born Free. George Adamson rehabilitated many of these lions after Born Free was completed. It is a documentary-style film about George Adamson and his lions.
- An Elephant Called Slowly (1969) is a travelogue featuring George Adamson, Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna.
- Lord of the Lions...Adamson of Africa was filmed in the Kora Reserve in Kenya only months before George was murdered.
- Living Free (1972) is the sequel to Born Free; it stars Nigel Davenport as George Adamson and Susan Hampshire as Joy Adamson.
- Christian the Lion (1972) is a documentary of Christian the lion and his journey to George Adamson; it was written, produced and directed by Bill Travers and James Hill, the director of Born Free.
- Born Free (1974 television series) is a loose adaptation starring Gary Collins and Diana Muldaur.
- To Walk With Lions (1999), a feature film, starred Richard Harris as George Adamson.
- 'The Born Free Legacy' is a BBC documentary from 2005.
- 'Elsa's Legacy: The Born Free Story' is a Nature PBS documentary episode from 2011.
TONY FITZJOHN'S STORY
Tony Fitzjohn, an internationally renowned field expert on African wildlife, is best known for the eighteen years he spent helping Born Free’s George Adamson return more lions — including the celebrated Christian — to the wild in Kenya.
Anthony Raymond Fitzjohn, OBE is a conservationist who worked extensively with George Adamson at Kora in Africa. In recognition of his service to wildlife conservation, Fitzjohn was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire in 2006.
Aside from his early work with lions, Tony has made many other contributions to wildlife conservation:
- established and stocked the first successful rhinoceros sanctuary in Tanzania.
- 30 years of successful rehabilitation of zoo animals into the wild.
- gained National Park status for two game reserves.
- first successful captive breeding program for endangered African hunting dog in East Africa.
- ground-breaking veterinary research into disease of endangered species.
- 20 years of developing and supporting anti-poaching units.
The Leopards of Kora: Was a wildlife documentary taped in 1982. It was produced by Gary Streiker and videotaped by Mark Roberts and was presented on BBC in 1992, about the release of two leopards into the Kora Preserve in the mid-1980s. The documentary was also presented on the Discovery Channel prior to that.
Born to be Wild: A BBC documentary released in 1999, about the translocation of the elephant, Nina, to the Mkomazi Game Reserve after 27 years in captivity.
Mkomazi: Return of the Rhino: Produced by Henson International Television with music by Nikolas Labrinakos this documentary follows the capture in South Africa of four black rhinos and their journey back to their original homeland of Mkomazi in Tanzania.
To Walk with Lions: This 1999 film is the dramatic continuation of George Adamson's (Richard Harris) fight to save Kenya's wildlife. Together with his young assistant Tony Fitzjohn (John Michie), Adamson battles to keep the animals on his game reserve Kora from dangerous poachers and deadly shifta bandits.
ARTICLES OF INTEREST
GARETH PATERSON'S STORY
Gareth Paterson's life too, intersected with George Adamson. Gareth was a protege and involved at Kora right up to George's fateful shooting. It was left to him to take charge of the remaining lions in their care. His life story grows from that point on.
(From an extract from Africa Geographic in 2014 by Simon Epsley)
Gareth Patterson is one of Africa’s great conservationists – he has the scars to prove it.
I met Gareth a few years ago and frankly did not at the time fully appreciate his true contribution to conservation in Africa. During our lengthy discussion over a few cups of tea at a lovely spot near Plettenberg Bay, I was immediately drawn to his quietly contemplative take on life and well-disguised steely resolve.
I was aware that he was lion-man George Adamson’s protégé back in the day and that his recent study of Knysna’s elephants was shaking a few trees in the musty old Cape Nature conservation corridors. I also knew that he was hounded out of Botswana’s Tuli Block by the South African hunting fraternity and fled to the peaceful Garden Route to recover from massive stress overload, and make a fresh start.
What I did not realise though was how unbelievably special his relationship was with the lions he rescued from Kora in Kenya and relocated to Tuli when Adamson was killed.
His book My Lion’s Heart is the incredible story of one man’s determination to give a small group of young orphaned lions a fresh start in life. He taught them how to survive in this arid wild land – even how to hunt, deal with aggressive elephants and defend the territory against other wild lions. Along the way he lived like a lion, behaved like a lion and even thought like a lion.
This riveting story is full of wonderful anecdotes and revelations and I was left wanting to know more, to better understand what it means to almost become a lion. It’s full of incredible highs but also not short on anger, sadness and despair. Importantly though, Gareth was ultimately successful in his endeavour, because the genes of his lions still live on in Tuli.
Gareth Patterson's love for the wild has spurred various projects surrounding animal rights. He is the author of Cry for the lion (1988), Where the Lion Walked and Lions and George Adamson (1991), Last of the Free (1994), With my soul amongst lion (1995), Dying to be Free (1998), To walk with lions (2001), The Secret Elephants (2009), My Lions Heart (2014), and Part of the Pride (2017).
In "Part of the Pride," Kevin Richardson, recently dubbed "The Lion Man" on 60 Minutes, tells the story of how he grew from a young boy who loved animals to become a man able to cross the divide between humans and predators, looking some of the world's most dangerous animals directly in the eye, playing with them and even kissing them on the nose-all without ever being attacked or injured. As a self-taught animal behaviorist, Richardson has broken every safety rule known to humans when working with these wild animals. Flouting common misconceptions that breaking an animal's spirit with sticks and chains is the best way to subdue them, he uses love, understanding and trust to develop personal bonds with them. His unique method of getting to know their individual personalities, what makes each of them angry, happy, upset, or irritated has caused them to accept him like one of their own into their fold. Richardson allows the animals' own stories to share center stage as he tells readers about Napoleon and Tau, the two he calls his "brothers"; the amazing Meg, a lioness Richardson taught to swim; the fierce Tsavo who savagely attacked him; and the heartbreaking little hyena called Homer who didn't live to see his first birthday. In "Part of the Pride," Richardson, with novelist Tony Park, delves into the mind of the big cats and their world to show readers a different way of understanding the dangerous big cats of Africa.
ARTICLES OF INTEREST: