Elsa's Legacy: The Born Free Story
Adamson Timeline

1906 – George Adamson is born in India.

1910 – Friederike Victoria Gessner (Joy Adamson) is born in what is now the Czech Republic.

1924 – George Adamson moves to Kenya. At the time, Kenya is still an English colony.

1938 – George joins Kenya’s game department as a warden of the Northern Frontier District.


Joy Adamson with Elsa.
© Elsa Conservation Trust

1944 – Joy and George marry.

1947 – Joy begins a series of paintings to record tribal life and customs. The project takes six years and includes 700 portraits.

1956 – George, now senior game warden, kills a charging lioness while searching for a man-eating lion. He takes her three cubs back to the camp. Two of the cubs, Big One and Lustica, are taken to a zoo but Joy fights to keep the third cub, Elsa.

1959 – George begins efforts to reintroduce Elsa into the wild.

1960 – BBC Presenter David Attenborough travels to Kenya to do a piece on Elsa.

1960 – “Born Free” is published. It is hugely successful, selling 5 million copies and is translated into 24 languages.

1961 – Elsa dies of tick fever and is buried in Meru National Park.

1961 – George retires as a game warden and focuses exclusively on his work with lions.

1963 – Joy founds the Elsa Conservation Trust, an organization committed to wildlife conservation.


Virginia McKenna during the filming of “Born Free”.
© Born Free Foundation

1965 – George heads an effort to reintroduce three lions featured in the Born Free film – Boy, Girl, and Ugas – back into the wild.

1966 – Columbia Pictures releases the film Born Free. It becomes a box office hit all over the world and stars real-life husband and wife Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna. They are deeply inspired by their work on the film and become wildlife activists.

1968 – The lion Boy attacks a child. Although he survives, the incident tarnishes the reputation of his rehabilitation program.

1970 – George moves to Kora to continue the program.

1971 – George’s assistant, Stanley, is killed by Boy. George is forced to shoot Boy.

1980 – Joy Adamson is killed in Kenya. Initially thought to be a lion attack, it is later proven that her murderer was an angry employee.

1980 – George’s brother Terence Adamson is mauled by a lion. The Kenyan Government refuses to allow any new cubs to enter the rehabilitation program.

1984 – McKenna and Travers establish the Born Free Foundation, an International wildlife charity working to prevent animal cruelty and suffering.


George Adamson with Elsa. © Elsa Conservation Trust

1986 – George publishes his autobiography, My Pride and Joy.

1988 – The Kenyan Government reinstates George’s program and he is given three orphan cubs to rehabilitate into the wild.

1989 – George Adamson, aged 83, is shot dead by bandits in Kenya. He is buried next to his favorite lion, Boy.

  • Kristina Rus

    This was a very wonderful program!

  • Olga Watkins

    I agree. This was a lovely program to watch after feeling so sad after the Tucson attack of this weekend. Although it was very sad that Joy and George were both killed by humans, it was calming and inspiring to watch their interactions with the animals. And Virginia McKenna is a beautiful human being. I’m about to watch the program again on my computer.

  • SP

    Elsa’s Legacy: The Born Free Story was emotionally moving. Hearing George Adamson’s words come to life about the love he had for his lions was hauntingly bittersweet and moved me to tears – especially toward the end. I had to have a box of Kleenex on hand to control the waterworks. Thanks again, PBS, for another beautifully well-made program.

  • Rebecca Stager

    What a fabulous program! I enjoyed the home movie footage of George Adamson, writing in his journal and walking the land and the compound, especially. His tall, lean, pipe-smoking figure, combined with his quite, philosophical style made him feel like the archetype of a wise man. I wish I could have known him. Joy Adamson, of course, is also a fine contributor to mankind and the marvelous animals of Africa, and all the contributors to the film gave their knowledge most generously. I thank the creators of this film so very much, and hope to obtain a copy when I can.

  • pele

    How come there’;s nothing about Christian?

  • Jamii Hutson

    I love when u have a true story of people caring 4 animals so deaply as I do my self!
    There are 2 many people now days that just dont care at all about animals or there habitats!
    And maby with show like this people will open there eyes and start 2 care or at least we can
    hope they will!

  • Kim

    I was so young when born free came out, I realize now how that movie effected my life, I have a deep care for all animals!
    I hope that the Adamson’s hard work is still going on out there somewhere? We need many more people like the
    Adamson’s protecting what little we have left of wildlife all over the world!
    Great movie and book, I hope younger people read and watch this movie, and can open there hearts and there
    lives to wildlife!

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