Joy Adamson was born Friederiki Victoria Gessner on January 20, 1910 in Troppau, Silveria, Austria. She was the second of three children and lived with her parents until she was 10 years old. At that point, her parents divorced and young Joy was sent to live with her grandparents. As a young woman, Joy had dreams of a music career and took singing lessons and learned how to play the piano. She also studied fine art, typing, shorthand, and photography. Later, she became interested in psychoanalysis and for awhile held onto an unrealized desire to study medicine. Joy was to marry three times in her life.
In 1936, Joy met and married her first husband, a successful businessman, Victor von Klarwell, an Austrian Jew. At the onset of World War II, he sent Joy to Kenya to escape Nazi persecution...with the intention of joining her there. But, during her voyage, she met the Swiss botanist, Peter Bailey, and fell in love with him. In 1938, she divorced von Klarwell and married Peter. As a matter of fact, it was Peter who first nicknamed her, Joy, and the name stuck.
For awhile, it was pure bliss. The couple traveled throughout the wildereness of Kenya, studying the native flora; Joy busied herself painting many of the specimens that her husband studied. But, soon thereafter, Joy met and fell in love with her third husband, George Adamson, a game warden. Joy continued busying herself with her paintings and near the end of the 1940's, began painting the natives of Kenya in their traditional clothing and ornaments...documenting their disappearing customs.
Then one day in early in early 1956 a series of events unfolded that would change their lives forever. George had been sent out to track down a man-eating lion who had been terrorizing several of the neighboring villages when he and his hunting party stumbled onto a lioness and her three cubs...startling them. When the lioness charged, George had no choice but to shoot, killing the mother and leaving three orphaned cubs.
It was on February 1, 1956 that George brought the cubs home to Joy...unknowingly setting in motion events that would prove pivitol for the very foundation of modern conservationism for Joy was immediately captivated by the cubs. She devoted herself to raising these orphans and the results showed for soon the cubs were thriving...so well that within six months time, the two largest cubs became too much to handle and were sent to the Rotherham Zoo. The smallest cub, Elsa was kept by the Adamsons' who believed they would try to teach her to fend for herself in the wild....eventually hoping to re-release her into the wild...something that had never been done before.
And it worked. Elsa thrived and when she was three years old, she was patiently taken back into the bush and encouraged to develop her instincts to hunt and survive. The Adamsons' knew they were successful when they discovered a week later that Elsa had killed an antelope. Elsa died at the age of 5 of a disease of the blood, but her life was immortalized by the writings of Joy...."Born Free", "Living Free", and "Forever Free". Joy took Elsa's three cubs and trained them, eventually releasing them into the wild. They were never to be seen again.
Joy devoted the rest of her life to working with wild animals. After the release of the cubs, Joy adopted a young cheetah, Pippa who was also trained to survive in the wild. In 1961, Joy founded the Elsa Wild Animal Appeal, and in 1962, went on an international tour to speak about wildlife preservation. She was also an early activist in the movement against selling and using clothing made of animal fur.
On January 3, 1980, Joy Adamson was murdered, 7 days before her 10th birthday. Her body was found close to her campsite in Northern Kenya where she had been studying leopards. At first it was believed that she had been killed by a lion, but later it was found that the wounds had been made with a sword-like weapon rather than claws and teeth. A quiet ceremony was held near Nairobi, Kenya; in her will, Joy specified that her body be cremated and her ashes divided and buried with her two beloved cats--Elsa and Pippa.
Her life cut short, Joy Adamson and filled her years with the study of big cats. Her observations became the foundation stone for research projects involving the rehabilitation of captive animals back into the wild. George Adamson continued his wife's work until he himself was murdered on August 20, 1989. They had lived amongst the wild, untamed, dangerous cats and were both killed by the hands of humans motivated by simple greed. Ironic, isn't it? Nevertheless, their work lives on through the organizations that Joy founded.
"Since we humans have the better brain, isn't it our responsibility to protect our fellow creatures from, oddly enough, ourselves?"--Joy Adamson