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Joy Adamson was a conservationist who pioneered the movement to preserve African wildlife. She won renown with her books about raising the lion cub Elsa.
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Joy Adamson was born January 20, 1910, in Troppau, Austria-Hungary. She relocated to Kenya, where she married George Adamson, a British game warden. She won international renown with her African wildlife books, especially the trilogy describing how the couple raised a lion cub, Elsa. In 1961 she founded the Elsa Wild Animal Appeal. At age 69 she was murdered by a disgruntled employee.
Artist and naturalist Joy Adamson spent much of her life in Africa, following her passion for animals. In 1960 book Born Free, she detailed her adventures with a young lion cub called Elsa. This story struck a chord with readers around the world, helping to spur interest in animal conservation in Africa.
The story of this famous writer actually begins in Europe. Born Friederike Victoria Gessner, she grew up in Troppau, which was part of the Austria-Hungary empire and is now known as Opava, Czech Republic. Adamson enjoyed a life of wealth and privilege as the daughter of a wealthy architect. She studied piano and the arts, among other subjects, in school.
Adamson married for the first time in 1935, becoming the wife of businessman Victor von Klarwill. He sent her on a trip to Africa on her own. According to some reports, von Klarwill wanted her to see if they could move there. Adamson, however, soon met another man, botanist Peter Bally, during her travels. In love with this new land and Bally, she decided to stay in Africa and divorce her husband. Adamson wed Bally in 1937, and it was Bally who gave her the nickname "Joy"—a moniker she used for the rest of her life.
At first, Adamson painted the plant life of Africa. She eventually expanded her artistic endeavors to make portraits of people from indigenous cultures in Kenya. After ending her marriage to Bally in 1942, she met a game warden named George Adamson. He became her third husband, and they spent some of their early years together, traveling around East Africa for his job and living in tent camps.
In 1956, Adamson's husband shot a lion in self-defense. He discovered that she had only attacked to protect her three cubs. Rescuing the young animals, George brought them home to Joy. They gave two away to a zoo, but they kept one that they named Elsa. Joy developed a close bond with the animal, which she raised. In Born Free (1960), she chronicled her relationship with Elsa and her efforts to return her to the wild. Adamson explained that Elsa "became almost like my child. Because I had no children, I have spent all my emotion on her and my other animals. But I cannot make them my own."
Adamson's book became an international best seller, and its success put the spotlight on the need to preserve African wildlife. She wrote two more books about Elsa and her cubs, Living Free (1961) and Forever Free (1962). In addition to sharing her experiences and observations through writing, Adamson established her own conservation group, the Elsa Wild Animal Appeal.
In 1966, the film adaptation of Born Free became an international smash.
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