Joy of lions lives on, 22 years after Adamson’s death

Correspondent | Nation
Kenyans and visitors from other parts of the world undertake the George Adamson ritual of climbing the Kora Rock at Kora National Park to mark the 22nd anniversary of George Adamson’s death.

What you need to know:

  • ‘Protector of big cats’ believed man was a greater threat to both fellow human beings and wildlife than lions; man later killed both Joy and George

In the past few days, a new generation of Kenyans and visitors from other parts of the world have been visiting the Kora National Park to pay their respects to the “father of lions,” George Adamson.

His work, vision and love of wildlife continues to inspire many, some 22 years after the 83-year-old was shot dead in August 1989.

The protector of lions and their environment was killed in an ambush a few miles from his isolated camp in northern Kenya by Somali bandits while on his way to pick up visitors at a nearby airstrip.

It all started when the naturalist, a rebel of sorts who usually dressed in green shorts and sandals, was on duty as a game warden and accidentally shot and killed a lioness which was survived by three cubs. Together with his wife, Joy, the couple adopted and raised the cubs.

From that fatal incident, he created a legend captured in numerous volumes of books, movies and documentaries with the most famous being the award winning movie, Born Free, that was based on his life with lions.

Through the weekend, wildlife enthusiasts camped at the game park without electricity, piped water nor telephones, taking moments to follow through the paths George walked with lions.

Commemorate anniversary

They were there to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the tragic end of Adamson’s life through a bullet.

He died, having survived numerous nights and days staying and sleeping with the dangerous carnivores. The lions grew up with humans, making them became almost as tame as house cats.

He believed that man was a greater threat to both fellow humans and wildlife than lions, and in a strange confirmation of his philosophy, it was a man who killed both his wife Joy and himself.

In a stranger twist of fate, however, Adamson’s brother, Terrance, was mauled by a lion in 1980, forcing the government to stop the programme of rearing lions.

Joy’s books Born Free, Living Free and Elsa were read by millions of people.

The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) spokesman Paul Udoto captured the enthusiasm of many when he said that it was a “celebration of a lion”.

Other activities included cultural and corporate exhibitions, camel rides, the George Adamson ritual of climbing the Kora Rock, film shows on his life and times, traditional dances from the surrounding communities and calling out for the lion assembly, a must for any traveller to Kora.

His death was described as the greatest catastrophe in the preservation of the big cat.

In the decades that have followed, growing human settlements, farming, climate change, disease as well as poaching have put the lions in great danger.

Some 23 years ago, Africa’s lion population stood at 200,000. But 13 years ago that number had halved and now there are as few as 20,000.

According to KWS, Kenya is annually losing an 100 of its 2,000 lions due to growing human activities. The country could lose all its lions in 20 years if the current rate of decline continues.

Lions have a special place among Kenyans and are the symbol for national strength with many organisations using a lion image on their logos.

It is one of the Big Five animals that visitors come to Kenya from all over the world to see, contributing foreign income.

Perhaps the poachers who shot Adamson thought they had changed their fortunes by killing the man who defended them the lions.

But today, although the numbers have reduced, there are several better organised efforts aimed at protecting lions from extinction.