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Elsa the lioness (c. January 1956 to January 24, 1961) was raised by game warden George Adamson (1906–1989) and his wife Joy Adamson (1910–1980) in Kenyamarker. Elsa and her two sisters, 'Big One' and Lustica, first came under the care of the Adamsons when only a few weeks old. They had become orphaned when George was reluctantly forced to kill their mother during one of his safaris. Her two sisters were eventually sent to the Rotterdam Zoomarker in the Netherlandsmarker, while Elsa herself remained with the Adamsons.

While Elsa lived in many ways like a domesticated pet when she was small, Joy Adamson, whom Elsa trusted the most, considered her relationship with Elsa to be that of equals. Indeed, Joy was fiercely determined to give Elsa the education she needed to hunt and live in the wild. Her efforts paid off, earning Elsa worldwide fame at the time, when her life's story, up to this point, was published in the book Born Free. When Elsa was three years old, she brought three cubs of her own to show to the Adamsons, whom the Adamsons named "Jespah" (male), "Gopa" (male), and "Little Elsa" (female). The life of Elsa and her cubs are covered in the book, Living Free, published not long afterwards.

Elsa's life was tragically cut short, however, when she succumbed to babesiosis, a blood disease somewhat similar in character to malaria and a form of which (Babesia felis) often infects members of the cat family. Elsa's grave is located in the Meru National Parkmarker. Her death occurred as local sentiment began to turn against Elsa and her cubs, forcing the Adamsons to consider relocation for the cubs. Elsa's death made her cubs much more averse to human contact, even with the Adamsons themselves, complicating what would be their capture and ultimate release in the Serengetimarker. The fate of the cubs upon their release was uncertain, though George Adamson was able to find Little Elsa alive, healthy, and in the company of two other unrelated lions during 19 months of subsequent searching . Though this was the last that the Adamsons would ever see of Elsa's cubs, they hoped that Elsa's descendants continue to live on in the Serengetimarker.


  • Born Free 1960 - Written by Joy Adamson; Library of Congress Catalog Card # 60-6792
  • Living Free 1961 - Written by Joy Adamson; Library of Congress Catalog Card # 61-15810
  • Forever Free 1962 - Written by Joy Adamson; Library of Congress Catalog Card # 63-8081
  • Bwana Game(UK Title) 1968, A Lifetime With Lions (USA Title) 1970 - Written By George Adamson
  • My Pride and Joy - 1986 - Written By George Adamson - ISNS 0 00 272518 5.


  • Elsa and Her Cubs - 25 minutes; Extremely rare film footage of Elsa and her cubs Jespah, Gopa and Little Elsa and includes Joy and George Adamson. Although the film begins by saying the narrator is George Adamson, it is not George Adamson speaking. [33354]


  1. Adamson, George. A Lifetime With Lions. New York: Avon Books, 1968.

Living Free (1972). Starring Susan Hampshire and Nigel Davenport.

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