cute Elsa

Elsa's Homepage

Elsa is a lioness that was raised by Joy Adamson, and was brought back into the African wilderness.

The Adamsons got Elsa when George (Joy's husband) had to shoot a wild lioness that attacked him. She had 3 female cubs (see short movie below). the Adamsons kept Elsa and sent the others to a zoo. When Elsa was 3, they decided to teach her to live wild. She gave birth to three cubs: Jespah, Gopa (male) and Little Elsa (female). Elsa died in January 24th 1961. Jespah, Gopa and Little Elsa were taken to the Serengeti Nationalpark (Tanganijka, now Tanzania) and surely their descendants still live there and are hopefully forever free ...


The Adamson's have gone forever: Joy was killed on January 3, 1980 (a former employee of Joy murdered her) and George was shot by poachers on August 20, 1989.


Joy Adamson wrote three books about Elsa:

dotBorn Free

The Adamsons first tried to release Elsa in the Masai-Mara reserve in southern Kenya (mid-1958), but she became ill from the climate change there. After she had recovered they took her to the Meru reserve (at the time it wasn't a National-park yet) and released her. They stayed away for a week; upon returning they found her able to fend for herself--she killed a waterbuck while they were visiting. George visited Elsa in her new home periodically from late 1958 to 1959, and was worried that she never seemed to be interested in other lions. Although there were male lions in the area, she didn't seem too friendly with them. Finally, he saw her with a male lion, and from then on he knew she could take care of herself and live with other lions. Joy came to visit her a few times ... .
Then Born Free ends with a publisher's note saying that he'd received a telegram reading: Cubs born 20th--Adamson.
dotLiving Free
George saw Elsa and her mate courting in September, which meant the cubs would be born in December. Elsa disappeared on Dec. 19th and stayed away until Christmas. Joy tried to follow her back to her den several times, but Elsa kept tricking her into going the wrong way. On February 2nd, 1960, Joy was sitting in her tent writing when one of the Africans, Makedde, came and told her that Elsa was standing on the river bank making a strange noise. Joy followed him--Elsa and 3 small cubs were there, about to cross. There were 2 males (later named "Jespah" and "Gopa") and a female ("Little Elsa"). Elsa tried to get the cubs to play with Joy, but Joy didn't want to tame them and the cubs were too shy. Jespah finally, after many months, was friendly with humans, but the other cubs were always more wild. In the meantime, poachers were threatening the area wildlife and a rival lioness was trying to take over Elsa's territory. Many nights Elsa left her cubs in camp with the Adamsons (where they made a terrific mess of things--sleeping in empty beds, trashing the contents of any box they found) while she fought the other lioness. George, working as Senior game warden, was frequently capturing poachers, and eventually the local villages became angry at this--poaching was their life. In late 1960 the government asked George and Joy to either leave Meru reserve or move Elsa and the cubs to another reserve. They said that because Elsa was half-tame, she was potentially dangerous. In the summer the cubs and their mother had vanished for 2 weeks, been found several miles outside of their home area, coaxed into returning and were still harassed by the other lioness. On December 24, Joy received an order from the government to remove the lions from Meru reserve ... the book ends there.
dotForever Free
After being told that the lions had to be moved, George and Joy started looking for a new home for them. While Joy was in Nairobi talking to Nationalpark officials about possible homes, Elsa became ill with babesia. She died on January 24th, 1961, just before Joy returned to the Meru Reserve with medicine. The cubs became very shy and wild now and only visited the camp at night. On March 4 the fierce lioness chased them away from the camp. Soon after, George received notice that they were killing livestock eight miles away. He and Joy spent over a month trying to catch them, succeeding in May. They moved Jespah, Gopa and Little Elsa to the Serengeti, as the local tribesmen were angry--Jespah had even been shot at by herders and had an arrow permanently in his rump. The cubs seemed happy in their new home, but the Adamsons wanted to help them survive until they were truly old enough to kill on their own, since Elsa had died almost a year before the cubs would have normally lived on their own. On July 12, the Adamsons saw the cubs, and George called the Park warden and told him they were "in excellent condition"--the Warden later said, when the Adamsons asked for help, "Why are you asking for help when you said they were in excellent condition?" That was the last time they saw the cubs, and in June 1962, after a year of unsuccessful searching, George and Joy gave up. Apparently the cubs had adjusted so well that they could live wild, or so they hoped.

These books were translated into a lot of languages and were sold all over the world. In fact there is still demand for them and they are still being sold.

The german titles for the three books are:

Original Film of Elsa and her sisters as cubs

This rare film of Elsa and the cubs was shot by a young police officer stationed in Isiolo, Geoff Stoakes, in early 1956. Geoff was a cine enthusiast and hearing of the cubs visited the Adamsons with his camera and shot these sequences - the only footage of the litter as cubs. The toddler in the film is his son Michael. Also making an appearance is Patti the hyrax who was not pleased by all the attention the cubs were getting.

A very nice and fascinating piece of history. More than 50 years ago Elsa did the first step from the wilderness into the human world not knowing yet that she would cross this river twice and would eventually return into the wilderness. Did you ever expect to be able to see Elsa in motion? Now you have the chance!

dotDownload Movie (28MB, 2:49, Cinepak AVI, 240x192, 12.5fps)

dotMovie on YouTube
(Somebody took the movie from this website and put it on YouTube.)

Many thanks go to Mike Stoakes (the son of Geoff Stoakes you see in the movie) who provided this unique movie. He is also the copyright holder. Please respect it. If you would like to get in contact with Mike send me an email.


(The links point to the Internet Movie Database entries.)

dotBorn Free (UK, 1966)

A nice film which covers the book Born Free. Although it is not a good replacement for the book, it is a nice film for the whole family.
dotLiving Free (UK, 1972)
I haven't seen this one yet.
dotTo Walk with Lions (1999)
Great movie, but also very sad. It tells the story of George Adamson and his life among lions after Joy was gone. Not explicitly Elsa related, but very well worth being listed here.


dotOverview over the pictures of all three books (without comments)

dotCommented pictures of Born Free

dotCommented pictures of Living Free

dotCommented pictures of Forever Free


dot The Elsa Conservation Trust
ElsaTrust Logo The Elsa Conservation Trust was established in 1963 by Joy and George Adamson, their work in conservation is part funded by the Elsa Conservation Trust through education and training.
dot The Born Free Foundation
BFF Logo In 1964, Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna starred in the film Born Free, which told the true story of George and Joy Adamson as they returned Elsa the lioness to the wild. Later they founded the BFF with the motto: Keep wildlife in the wild. You can adopt an animal and you can buy certain merchandise (like the Born Free VHS Video).
dot FREI GEBOREN e.V. (german page only)
FREI GEBOREN Logo FREI GEBOREN, Artenschutz für Tier und Natur e.V. is an organisation which helps to preserve the endangered east african flora and fauna.


dotWhere can I buy the books?
You can still get Born Free as a new book. The cover changes from edtion to edition, the current title is Born Free - A lioness of two worlds. Living Free and Forever Free are usually out of print, except for special editions (which appear now and then). To get an idea about availability and pricing you may have a look at, just search for Joy Adamson. (I am in no way affiliated with You may also try second hand book stores, they are pretty common there.

Credits and Disclaimer

The pictures and stories are no fiction, they are pure reality. The pictures and stories are © 1961 by Joy Adamson.

Most info about the Adamson's and Elsa originally written by Holly Russcher.

Many thanks go to Mike Stoaks for providing the nice movie of elsa and her sisters as cubs.

If you have any comments or suggestions please feel free to send me an email.

Note that this webpage is a private and unofficial webpage. I do not take any warranty for any information (text and pictures) presented on this webpage. I do not earn money with this page. The purpose of this page is to remember Elsa the lioness and Joy Adamsom.

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