Elsa's Legacy: The Born Free Story
How Did "Born Free" Affect You?


In 1960, Joy Adamson’s international bestseller, Born Free, introduced Elsa to the world. Six years later, the lioness hit the big screen with the 1966 feature film starring Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers. Did you read the book? Have you seen the award-winning movie? How did Elsa’s story change the way you view lions and other wild animals? Did the relationship between Elsa and the Adamsons inspire you to rethink your relationship with wildlife? We want to hear from you. Submit your comments below.

Photo © Elsa Conservation Trust

  • Nancy Fulton

    I was twelve years old when Born Free was published. My grandmother was the one who introduced me to the book. An animal lover, she was enthralled with Elsa’s story. Years later, she took me to the movie when it was released.

    Until Born Free was published, lions were to be feared. They lived (or should I say paced up in down) in tiny prison cells in zoos. Brave men “tamed” them at the circus. Fortunately, once one saw the images of Elsa and Joy Adamson playing and cuddling together, nothing could stay the same. That loving relationship changed the way we all looked at lions and other wild animals. No longer could we see these beautiful creatures penned in.

    Because of Born Free, Elsa and the Adamson’s, I definitely had to rethink my relationship with wildlife. I wanted to learn much more about wild animals and how they lived…but only in their natural habitat. Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was a very popular TV program that started in 1963. I watched it religiously. I believe that that program was an outgrowth of people’s love affair with Elsa and the Born Free experience.

    Before Born Free I don’t remember any naturalists involved in popular culture. Elsa’s story introduced many of us to the concept of animals in the wild, the importance of conservation/protection of their habitats and how we are all connected.

  • Jane Stanley

    When I had to move to a smaller house I had to give up much of my large book collection. But one book I kept was “Born Free” I kept it because of the beautiful story and because of a new interest in animal life.

  • Arthur

    The book was great.Because of Born Free, Elsa and the Adamson’s, I definitely had to rethink my relationship with wildlife. I wanted to learn much more about wild animals and how they lived…but only in their natural habitat. Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was a very popular TV program that started in 1963. I watched it religiously. I believe that that program was an outgrowth of people’s love affair with Elsa and the Born Free experience.

  • wieke

    hallo everybody naturelovers, i come from holland so no lions around wild only in the zoo , i do come from an animal loving and caring family for generations so i was lucky go grow up with people around like that.My grandfather and mother were collectors of animal fhoto books and behaviourbooks also the house was full of prepared animals all kinds of ,so i wa salways with he books , the animals dead and alive as a small child .The bookcollection went to my father so the love for the wildlife and the influence from the pctures did have their inprint for ever and special the Elsa book !!!!!! My mam and dad became crazy becaurse they had to read it agian and again and again !!!!!!! my trust in animals did grow but my perants did learn me also the wild
    free aspect and the danger and how the behave raund them. i thought this was the way animals need to live inrepect but also contact with people to understan the body language ! so now i m 48 and for many years an teatcher,practitioner of TTEAM , behaviourist , communicator with horses and people , i know elsa was the start for later …………………..aware or unaware ,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,thanks for that , so all the beautifull books found their way to my bokfshelves now ……………so i m lucky……………………………….

  • Will Travers

    As a child, I was lucky enough to be there in Kenya when my mother and father, Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers made the film Born Free. It has changed my life. I now run both Born Free USA (www.bornfreeusa.org) and the Born Free Foundation (www.bornfree.org.uk) in the UK. The key message of Born Free is as relevant today as it was back in the 1960’s. Wildlife – real wildlife – needs to be protected and conserved in the wild. And, because of human activities, wild species have never been more under threat. Wild lion numbers in Africa are down by 75% in the last 30 years or so and we must do all we can to protect them and reduce the negative impact we impose on them. I invite everyone who cares about the future of wild animals to find out more and support Born Free, the legacy of a story which has inspired us all.

  • Robert Sullivan

    I wrote to Joy Adamson when I was a kid after reading “Born Free” and she wrote back to me! Her books “Born Free” – “Living Free” and “Forever Free” sparked an undying love and interest in the wildlife of East Africa. Parenthetically, I was sadden to hear Richard Engel’s recent report (on the NBC Nightly News) on the road building efforts through the Serengeti as it promises to continue the devastion of Africa’s most precious resource, the wildlife. For those of you who are interested, I highly recommend Adrian House’s book “The Great Safari” (1993, William Morrow and Company, Inc.) which cronicles the life and times of the Adamsons. I look forward to seeing how NATURE portrays their years with Elsa and her offsping as well as Joy’s (and George’s) remaining years in the wilds of Kenya.

  • Keon Robertson

    Several years ago a friend sent me the YouTube video about Christian the Lion (a lion that George Adamson successfully released into the wild). Little did I know how much that video would change my life. I then went on to read the Born Free books and research anything related to the Adamsons. I’m now heavily involved in lion conservation and have traveled to Africa to work on this issue and work with lions at a reserve. I’ve been fortunate enough to have emailed with Virginia McKenna (who played Joy in the movie) regarding my lion conservation work and she has always been gracious enough to respond. I’m now working on pushing to get the African lion placed on the Endangered Species List and also working to get legislation in place to ban the import of African lion trophies into the U.S. (a move the UK is working on as well). Lion conservation now consumes my life and I love it. I have a Facebook page dedicated to George Adamson (search “The Father of Lions: George Adamson”) on Facebook and a lion conservation blog dedicated to his memory. Thank you for this series – I cannot wait to watch it and I’m sure I’ll have to watch it several times!

  • Mary Overson

    I remember distinctly the first time I watched this show: I was in 4th grade (in 1984) when my teacher showed us the movie as a reward for getting our work done. I’d always loved the big cats – my parents lost me at the zoo as a toddler and my mom had the feeling she’d find me at the big cats area and, sure enough, that’s where I was – therefore, I was immediately engrossed in Elsa’s story. Born Free was not just a movie to me; I felt immediately transported to another place, and for me the story was personal. I was the only child in the class that was crying at the end of the film (and I was teased for it!) I am so grateful that there are still big cats, like Elsa, who are born free and live free right now – if this film had not been made, I feel certain that many of the cats would be extinct in the wild. One thing I have come to understand, though, is that a wild cat should never be in a zoo, or behind bars. There is still much to be done for the big cats and the delicate ecosystems in which they live. It is more important than ever that all of us continue to educate and help people understand that the wild is a reflection of human society – we ourselves are caged if there are no more big cats that are born free. Thank you, Joy, and thank you Elsa!

  • Netta Pfeifer

    On the anniversay of Elsa’s death in January, 1968, Joy and George Adamson took me to Elsa’s grave in Kenya’s Meru National Park. Except for Virginia McKenna, I was the only other person they had allowed to accompany them to that isolated but special place. The following month I helped the Adamsons move their belongings from the house in Isiolo, Kenya where Elsa and her sisters had spent their “cub-hood” to Joy and George’s new home, called Elsamere, on Lake Naivasha. For six months in 1968, I lived and worked side by side with Joy Adamson at her camp in the Meru National Park, and got to know her in a way that only a few would experience. All 9 of George’s lions, including my favorite, Ugas, who “played” the man-eater in the film “Born Free,” became my special friends, too. I wrote about my extraordinary experience in a book called “A Soul’s Safari,” and more recently in “Sleeping with Lions: A Spiritual Love Story.” Several photos from that time appear in my website, http://www.animalrepatterning.com. I can’t wait to see “Elsa’s Legacy: The Born Free Story” this Sunday on “Nature.” Thanks to you and Virginia McKenna for helping to reenergize the Adamsons’ story.

  • Susan W.

    As a lay person, I can truly state that the work with the lions leading up to the story about Elsa, the book Born Free, the movie Born Free did lead me to a strong realization and appreciation of all wildlife. Living in North America, I have followed Nature PBS’s series including Yellowstone Park, the Arctic and many others. To this day, where I live by a river and can watch coyotes trying to cross it’s frozen ice, my heart always hopes that they will make it to the other side. The squirrels, the seagulls, the crows, the hawks also share in my everyday views. So, in closing I must state, that Born Free initiated me into this wonder and amazement and love of all creatures great and small.

  • Tamara McElmeel

    I was nine years old when my mother, an true animal lover, toted me to the theaters to see the movie Born Free
    in the 60’s. Then she presented me with the book & continued my education on the welfare of all animals.
    I went to college & majored in Animal Sciences, specializing in exotics. I named my first Pomeranian puppy, “Elsa”. She lived to be 14 years of age.
    I educated further in Veterinarian skills and continued assisting with exotic wildlife care.
    I have continued to this day for many species, mammal, fish or fowl, to care & treat wildlife with the satisfaction of returning them to their natural way of life……very successfully, of which is my fulfillment.
    I drive an older Land Rover currently, proudly displaying a personalized license plate for my state, BRNFREE.
    The dash is covered in figures of lioness, pillows of the serengeti, african feathers and a spare tire cover sporting a lioness and her cubs. The book nook in the door carries the original hardback of BORN FREE for my passengers.
    Now @ 54 yrs. of age, I agree, this movie totally set my path in life !!!!

  • Lisa S

    I loved that book when I was growing up. I read it over and over again, so much so that the book fell apart. I’d love to hear a follow-up story to Born Free.

  • Melani Kautz

    I read the book & saw Disney special. It made me cry, the compassion for animals has stuck with me all these years.I have tremendous respect for any person who commits their lives to animals!! A follow up, awesome!

  • Debs

    Actually, I remember the theme song more than anything else. It was a huge hit when I was a little kid.

  • debbie angel

    I have read all the books and saw the movie. I became passionately in love with lions. My dad took me to a wildlife park where I could hold lion cubs. I interacted 1 on 1 with them as an adult. I have photos all over my home and if I was financially Able; I’d have them on my land and do my bit as Tippi Hedren and others do to preserve, rescue, and further the species.

  • m corrigan

    My mother bought this book for me when I was a young boy.I read it many times.I think what enthralled me was the idea that the Adamsons understood that the lions were born free and they were lucky to be a small part of their lives.They were pioneers in helping the wildlife in Africa and the start of refuges.
    The interaction between the lions and humans was unheard of at the time It was a well loved book and I still own it!

  • jameela

    How appropriate is this for me personally as I have just returned from Safari in Africa? I was deeply moved by this movie when I was a child and now having been on Safari I was blown away by the animals. I was so pleased to see how the reserve rangers were respectful of the animals. I am sad to be home but look forward to watching this program.

  • Ite hope ce

    The first time i saw this movie was in 1970. I was 6 years old and the first grade classes was gathered together to watch the movie in the gymnasium. I remember the principle saying to us that lions are caring and very affectionate to other animals and to people. They only harm their ‘Natural” prey for food, or if they or their family are threatened in position of danger.

    On that cold gym floor, I cried for Elsa. I still do for all nature’s creatures.

  • Angie Tschopp

    I cannot go to a zoo w/o weeping for those contained.

  • Carm

    I saw the movie when I was 12. I absolutely fell in love with lions. Since we live in suburbia cannot have lions I have a Pride of 3 large domestic cats and 4 Maine Coon Cats- one is named Joy for Joy Adamson. I am a docent at our local zoo. I can be found many days watching our lions in their very nice habitat and photographing them. While they may not be free in nature… they are free from disease, free from hunger, and free from attacks from other animals.

  • Rob Morford

    I’ve always loved the born free movie, and always been an animal lover from day one. In 2010 I took my first trip to Africa for a month. My goal was to walk with the lions in Africa, I saw them wild in the Mesa Mara, the Serengeti I walked with them In Livingstone Zambia. I liked it so much that I am going back in 2011 to Zimbabwe to work and volunteer and work with the lions rehabilitation back into the wild, like George Admanson did in Born Free. Last night I heard on the news that they were going to build a 33 mile highway through the Serengeti I was so mad that they would do that. That would just invite more poachers. Are lions would be road kill as well as the giraffes and wilderbeast. The ecologist say it might even stop the great migration that would be sad.

  • Richard Bartolomeo

    Our lasting legacy will not be the man made monuments that we erect for they will not last or stand up to the true test of time.

    Our lasting legacy is how well we human beings as the top predator in the animal kingdom.. We have no greater value they any other living creature we share our fragile planet with. No Loving God would choose one of his creatures nor would he grant one creature to hold dominion over any other.

    This is one of many falsehoods held in the man written bible… For if you believe that “God” is a parent then do you know any parent who would choose one child over another?

    For those believers, if we are truly “Gods Creatures” then we must honor his name by maintaining the natural environment for all of our peer living creatures so that everything born free and remain living free..!

    This is how our human legacy of being on the top of the food chain will be measured..!

    For if we fail then on day we to will fall victim to our own disingenuous and narcissist behavior and then we to will perish from our mother earth.

  • Helen

    Indeed, It’s a moving, loving and a heartbreaking real story. I don’t have any wild life animals but i love animals. I’d consider myself an animal activist. One thing is right, when one raises a baby animal no matter how fierceful it’s animal instict maybe, one gets attach to it and one ends up loving them like your own child and in return that feeling, love is transfered to them and as result they became tame and loving. It has touched my heart. I always believe that animals has feelings, thought of their own and are very smart but they can’t express themselve like humans can so therefore we have to be their voice.

  • Lisa

    One of my most favorite movies from my childhood.
    I’m positive it helped me form my passion for big cats.
    I’m currently studying to become a vet tech then onto animal biology. I can’t wait to get on the field and submerge myself in the study and recovery of lions!

  • Bert

    If this touched you go see BIG CAT RESCUE in Tampa Fl.

  • Joy

    Born Free, Living Free & Forever Free still remain some of my favorite books from my childhood(I still have them some 4o years later!) The patience & understanding that Joy & George showed in the books was a lesson to us all – wild animals have the right to their own lives & although we would have all liked Elsa & her family to have been safe & always the constant companions of the Adansom’s-they had their own lives to live-for better & worse & what a story it was. Although I enjoyed the movie I can’t say that it did the book justice. I’m looking forward to seeing where the story went from Forever Free.
    PS One of my cats was named Elsa as she reminded me of her namesake.

  • Chris Childs

    I am always amazed that the Adamsons led such an idyllic life in Kenya with their beloved lions. As a child I was lucky enough to live in this earthly paradise called Kenya, surrounded by wild animals and was taught to respect them and their surroundings. The Adamsons showed us that you can adopt a wild animal but it must one day be returned and taught to survive, with or without human help. This is the sad part of keeping wild animals, when you have to reintegrate them and say goodbye. Yes, it makes me cry even today when I hear the Born Free song but I’m so happy that the Adamsons showed the world how wonderful lions are and that they dedicated their lives to loving them.
    Isn’t it ironical that it was mankind that led to their deaths and not the lions!

  • Nancy Weir

    Oh, how the music from ‘Born Free” stirs my soul! I saw the program today. It makes me want to be there to
    assist in the teaching of lion to man. This precious sharing between lions and the Adamsons makes one
    hopeful for grandchildren. We have a slaughter of our own Wild Horses in our West going on daily now.
    I would desperately encourage all who profess to care, to help stop our BLM in the separating of
    wild horses from their established families , done so under the guise that they can not feed themselves or
    care for themselves in huge numbers. Just as with Adamsons lions, they take care of themselves, even
    if we sense brutality in the slayings between animals, the live and let live chain of order works.
    Please let us all work together to be a part of a larger solution for reverence for life.

  • Jan

    i saw the original video of Born Free and also bought it when it became available – my daughter at the time was small and loved the story too – and I also have the video of Christian and am happy to say that is one of the most watched videos on youtube – the whole movie is on youtube.

    Now I have become in another fight – a fight to save another wild animal the right to live in freedom – America’s wild horse. The Bureau of Land Management for several years has been rounding up and putting in pens America’s wild horses that used to roam over 26 million acres. Now millions of cattle are allowed to run on the lands that belong to our horses. I first became aware of the plight of the wild horse through Ginger Kathren’s films of Cloud also shown on Nature. If you want more information on our wild horse please go to Ginger’s website and see how you can help – its http://www.thecloudfoundation.org and also look up Madeleine Pickens Preserving America’s Wild horses – they are in the fore front trying to save our wild horses

  • Chris

    I just want to say born free was the first book that i ever read and I loved that book so much as a child that when the end of the school year came around my librarian gave me that same book as a presant!Lions and dolphins were always my favorite animals as a child and I always wanted to own both when I grew up Born Free to this day continues to be my favorite book along with the gentle jungle wich was a readers digest condense book.I also have the movie born free but unfortunately I lost the book but will always be in my heart as a time when the world was a much better place God bless everyone who ever had anything to do with the book or the movie and may god blees all lions in the world!!!!

  • Sue

    Just want to add that several years ago the A+E channel featured Joy Adamson on one of their “Biography” episodes.
    At the end of the program Joy Adamson was being persued by a photographer/reporter because she was wearing a full length leopard skin coat and hat. And neither item was “FAUX” .Needless to say she hastened
    her steps for a fast exit! That program left me stunned. I too was captivated by the movie and the book.
    The rest of us were being told that wearing real fur was disgraceful.

  • paula blair

    I was enthralled with the book, loved the movie, and wrote and received several letters from Joy. When she was killed, my husband rushed home and said Joy Adamson was killed by wild animals. I became light headed, and my heart started pounding. I immediately stated angrily, “There is no way that Joy Adamson was killed by ACCIDENT by a wild animal!” I knew within seconds this couldn’t have happened, she was always careful, respectful of wild animals, and knew their habits. I just knew someone had killed her and tried to make it look like an animal attack. If you really want to know her, buy her book “The Peoples of Kenya”. This is a fantastic book about the culture of the people of Kenya, and is filled with wonder art portraits and photos. The respect the people of Kenya had for the Adamsons’ is reflected in this book, they allowed her to record some of their most private cultural cerimonys. You can go online and view some of her paintings she did of her “Kenya” at Nairobi National Museum.

  • Sarah

    As a child, I watched Elsa and Joy on TV. I grew up to be a Wildlife biologist in part due to programs like this that showed animals were not just to be hunted, that we could learn form them and that we all share the earth.
    Thanks for airy this program..

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  • Ann A.

    When I was a child my parents took me to see Born Free and then when the trilogy of books came out in a set my parents bought them for me for Christmas one year. I wanted to grow up and be Joy Adamson. Years passed and when I was in my late 20’s PBS showed another program about George still living in the bush raising lions. Joy had already been killed so my hope of ever meeting her was dashed but as I had just inherited a little money from an aunt that died I decided to write George in Kora and ask if he needed an some temporary help around “Kampi”. Because I didn’t really have the address I tore that letter up but then my monthly Smithsonian magazine arrived with a story about George’s work in Kenya it gave me enough of an address to write another letter. I mailed it then forgot about it as weeks passed. One day when I got home from work my mother said “You have a letter from George Adamson”. I ripped it open and read Yes I could come help around camp and should arrive at a certain date and needed to bring anything I would need while there with me. Plans were made and I was off. I spent a month at Kampi ya Simba with George and Terrence and others setting the table, making curtains for the mess, looking for lions and listening to the Adamson brothers tell wonderful tales about their many years in Africa. It was the highlight of my life. I was asked to stay but had an airline ticket that could not be changed and I did not have the money to change it. I stayed in touch by mail from then on with Terrence, George, Jock Rutherford and some of the girls I met there. I was able to go back to Kora in 1987. By then Kora was dangerous and I had to get special permission from Ted Goss who I had to show a letter from George inviting me back before he would give me permission to fly into Kora. It was so good to see George one more time but things had changed and had gotten so dangerous rangers were living in Kampi. Terrence presence was missed. I stayed two weeks then had to come home where I ended up working at an animal rehabilitation center that might not have existed if not for the book Born Free and the Adamsons. My last letter from George arrived 10 days before he was killed. In it he mentioned that he hoped my working at the wildlife center had in some small way been inspired by him. It was totally inspired by him. The book Born Free did change my life. I went on to raise a “pet” cougar that could never be released because it had been declawed by apartment dwellers who thought having a pet cougar would be cool then wanted it gone when it “messed up” their apartment. I also helped back a law in my state that prevented people from buying exotics for pets which was very fashionable at the time. I think George and joy would be proud of their legacy and all the people who they touched with their story.

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  • Jamie

    It has had great impact on my life. I lived in Calif. when my mother read me the book. I could play the song, “Born Free,” on the piano. Played by ear. And, it is a fond memory, playing that song. Coming from the heart. What I felt for Elsa as a child. We lived very close to Lion Country Safari. Which was also a fond memory of mine. I would love to be able to contribue in someway to save these animals. If anyone, knows a way. I have held Siberian Tigers and, what a thrill that was for me. I also got to feed them. What an experience. I feel for these animals. That are so amazing.

  • mohd shariffudin

    first of all let me introduce myself briefly..i m 56, male, leaving in the far east..when i learn the works of adamson george n joy on animals esp lion..i m touched,,,deeply touched..i wept n wept uncousciously..they are truly lovers in the true sense of life…i could say they are really honest n totally dedicated to their work..i admire them..i ll always treasure their spirit of love….love has no boundaries…it can emcompass even wild animals like lion…how i wish be in touch to those related to elsa, george, joy n those who acted in bornfree movie..i need to talk n share their experiences ….bcos bornfree has melted my heart….

  • pooja

    it was a beautiful book.i cried a lot wen i read abt elsa’s death.it was very touching.

  • virginia Michelsons

    Found the PBS Elsa’s Legacy in the library and we relived the story, The film never told us whether the killers of George and Joy Adamson were ever found or prosecuted for the murders. Maybe someone can post the answer. I have been donating to animal causes for 30 plus years, especially the killing of wolves, and the clubbing of baby seals but both still go on as usual. Will we ever learn to be humane?

  • Tina

    I vividly remember watching “Born Free” as a young child. My sisters and I fell in love with Elsa and her family, and we sobbed when she died. The memory of it has brought tears to my eyes as I type this some 40 years later.

  • Jennifer

    I was a little girl when I first saw the movie “Born Free”. I loved watching it. It really brought the light to me about animals of all kinds. Espeacialy the Big Cats. The movie made me smile and cry. I just got done watching Nature on PBS about Elsa’s Legacy. Thank you for reairing it. I really never knew the whole story about Elsa and her WONDERFUL caretakers. I will always think of Elsa and her Legacy.

  • Kristin

    I too saw the reairing and it brought back a flood of memories associated with watching “Born Free” as a little girl. It seems to me that this was one of the first films and story for the masses solely devoted to the plight of wild African lions that showed how humans can have empathy towards these magnificent creatures. I remember crying as a little girl at the end– (as well as when it reaired; even the song was emotional; my kids were like “REALLY, mom?!?) How did the film impact me? It is hard to say–is it because I now brake for squirrels? Studied environmental interpretation? Support animal causes? Understanding more deeply my border collie,my shadow, and how she can convey emotions such as anger, happiness, fear, love, jealousy? I am so thankful that I know the whole story of the Adamsons–and the tragedy behind their deaths. I think Joy and her character in the movie, coupled with Jane Goodall, really did create strong women role models, and may be why today I am a researcher. Thanks so much for the show and I do hope it results in more energy and dollars to save the lions.

  • Sandy J Allen

    I am at a loss for words. Tears come at the mention of the movie title. The name Elsa is burned forever into my memory. It leaves me with a longing to touch, hear, help big cats of all kinds. If given the opportunity, I’d go to the ends of the earth to help them.
    If anyone can use a hand, I’m more than willing to help big cats ANY way possible.
    Sandy 612 802 7264

  • Yelka Janez

    I watched Nature tonite and was moved to tears aeeing and hearing Elsa’s story and the Adamsons.(what wonderful human beings who inspire me and restores hope that human beings can be who can be what Creator God meant us to be). MY passion and love for animals continues to grow exponentially. along with the desire to work with and care for animals, especially Cats. My gratitude AND awe for creation and our Creator has changed my life for the better! Thank you for the work you do telling and bringing man and creation closer together. Sincerely Yelka Janez

  • Cynbad

    Despite being a 6 yr old who already had a penchant for the natural world and its non-human inhabitants, “Born Free” sent my spirit flying! My heart and mind were captured and mesmerized by this movie. My Mother and Grandmother rescued many little birds and creatures in distress and I loved helping with nursing them back to health. I was especially enthralled with their eventual release back into the wild at which time I would remind the creatures that “after all, you were born free” and sing the ceremonial theme song. Throughout my life i’ve been a champion for the wildlife of this planet and now and again catch myself humming the tune. :-)

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