Nature – Elsa’s Legacy: The Born Free Story, January 9 on PBS
Since 1966 the world’s lion population has dropped 95%, to approximately 2000 lions. As much as we hate seeing these majestic animals in zoos, it’s probably a little like putting them into witness protection and out of reach of the bad guys.
In 1956, when George Adamson shot a charging lioness, lions were plentiful. By the eighties, George saw that there was a need to protect lions; although they were not endangered, the same could have been said about rhinos in the seventies. George and Joy Adamson lead their lives in a way most of us couldn’t imagine—living with lions and other predatory beasts in the wild. Ironically, they both died in violent incidents that were not the work of lions, but of men. Joy was murdered by a disgruntled ex-employee and George was killed by bandits.
On Sunday evening, January 9, the long-running PBS favorite, Nature, will present Elsa’s Legacy: The Born Free Story; it may also be viewed at PBS.org. It chronicles the Adamsons’ life with the world-famous lioness who had been rescued with her two sisters in 1956 following their mother’s death. Elsa’s sisters were sent to zoos, but she was nearly a surrogate child in the Adamson family. Home movies of Joy and Elsa show a loving “mom” and her “pet child.” This remarkable footage showed animals in a way that most people had never thought possible.
Joy Adamson’s book Born Free related Elsa’s story and informed the world that animals were individuals. The book sold over six million copies, and the 1966 motion picture won two Academy Awards. Elsa’s Legacy: The Born Free Story recounts the Adamsons’ experiences with Elsa and other animals, as well as some of the events that occurred during the making of Born Free, and events that followed.
Elsa’s Legacy: The Born Free Story peels away some of the romanticism of the Born Free “myth” through interviews with people who worked with the Adamsons, including Virginia McKenna, who portrayed Joy in the film and became a dedicated advocate for lions after it was completed. It is an hour well spent in front of the television—fascinating and rewarding.