George Adamson: Baba Ya Simba

Learn more about the father of lions through the lens of photographer Mohamed 'Mo' Amin.

Game Warden George Adamson (1964) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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A protector of Kenya's wildlife

No one knew better the language and lives of lions, or loved them more than George Adamson. Changing wildlife conservation worldwide, George is often referred to as “Baba ya Simba” for his remarkable efforts. 

Game Warden George Adamson (1964) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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The early years

George Alexander Graham Adamson was born 3 February 1906 in India, and educated at Dean Close School in Cheltenham, England. At the age of 18 he came to Kenya to work on his father’s coffee plantation; a job that didn’t quite tweak his adventurous spirit. After a series of jobs, as a gold prospector, goat trader and professional safari hunter, he joined Kenya’s game department in 1938 and was Senior Wildlife Warden of the Northern Frontier District.

Lion by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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Adamson retired as a wildlife warden in 1961 and devoted himself to raising lions who could not look after themselves, and training them to survive in the wild.

Game Warden George Adamson (1964) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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Joy Adamson and a shared passion

George married naturalist, artist and author Joy in 1944 and they separated in 1970. After his divorce, George moved to the Kora National Reserve in northern Kenya to continue the rehabilitation of captive or orphaned big cats. 

Game Warden George Adamson (1964) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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Born to be free

In 1956 George and Joy raised the Lioness cub, Elsa, who became the subject of the 1966 feature film "Born Free" based on the book written by Joy. Elsa, intelligent and trusting, was from a litter of three; her siblings were acquired by a zoo. 

Making of "Born Free" film (1964) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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“Baba ya Simba”

Elsa not only changed George and Joy’s lives but through subsequent books, movies and films, promoted an enormous interest in conservation. “Baba ya Simba” developed her instincts to hunt and introduced her back into the wild, something that had never been done before. 

Making of "Born Free" film (1964) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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"Born Free"

The filming of Born Free began in Meru National Park, on the slopes of Mount Kenya, in 1964. The roles of Joy and George were played by husband and wife actors Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, and more than twenty different lions were used to represent Elsa, including cubs sent from Ethiopia by Emperor Haile Selassie, including “Girl” and “Boy” who once were the mascots for the Royal Scots Guards in Nairobi. 

Making of "Born Free" film (1964) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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A box-office hit

The Academy-award winning film was not only a box-office hit, but a profoundly life-changing experience for the actors. In her journals, Virginia wrote that leaving Africa was “agony”, as was saying goodbye to the many “Elsas” who starred in Born Free. 

Lion playing by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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Born Free Foundation

“Guided by George and Joy, we began to understand how every animal is individual and that wild animals belong in the wild,” she wrote. The couple then started the Born Free Foundation, to help conserve Lions in Africa.

Burial of Elsa, the lioness by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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Farewell Elsa

After burying her, “Baba ya Simba” and his scouts fired 20 shots over her grave hoping that her mate would hear them. Elsa lies in Meru National Park by the river. Visitors to the Park still go to her grave to pay their last respects. 

Mohamed Amin and Dolly Amin with a pair of lion cubs by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

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Elsa had proven to all that, if given love and respect, a Lion is capable of continuing trust, affection and a lasting friendship with humans; they are not just programmed “eating machines”.

Game Warden George Adamson (1964) by Mohamed AminMohamed Amin Foundation

“Who will now care for the animals, for they cannot look after themselves? Are there young men and women who are willing to take on this charge? Who will raise their voices, when mine is carried away on the wind, to plead their case?”
George Adamson

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