Elsa’s destiny to live free | Sunday Observer

Elsa’s destiny to live free

22 December, 2019
By Dilshan Boange
By Dilshan Boange

Loved by generations across lands, the story of Elsa, the orphaned female lion cub that was raised to adulthood and then reintegrated successfully to the wild, by two ardent wildlife conservationists – George Adamson and his wife Joy, was one that found its way into cinema and was watched the world over. Based on the best selling nonfiction book ‘Born Free’, written by Joy Adamson, the movie ‘Born Free’ directed by James Hill is a British drama film from 1966. Among the notable aspects of this work of cinema is that it features the Academy Award winning hit song ‘Born Free’ sung by Matt Monro, for which the music was written by John Barry and lyrics by Don Black.

A heart warming family movie which can surely be enjoyed by young and old, Born Free is the type of movie that reverberates the rhythm of the golden age of movies. The movie stars Bill Tavers as George Adamson and Virginia McKenna as Joy and is narrated from Joy’s perspective taking the viewer through the life the Adamson couple experienced in Kenya, from the turning point of three orphaned lion cubs coming into their lives. The turning point in their lives happens when George is compelled to kill a man eating lion and its mate, and thus after discovering that she had a litter of three cubs brings the three cubs home to his wife, and they begin raising them.

They name the cubs Big One, Lastika and the youngest ‘Elsa’. The antics of the three lion cubs, the hullabaloo that ensues from time to time are hilarious and heart warming. Joy and George become especially attached to Elsa. When the cubs get too old to be kept with them, a decision is made to send them to the Rotterdam Zoo.

However, a last minute change of heart sees Elsa being chosen to be kept back brought up by the Adamsons. And thus the story of Elsa the lioness gains momentum.

The narrative shows how the presence of a tamed lion is both a fascination and an inconvenience to the local population. Elsa becomes the cause of an elephant stampede at one point and the disgruntled villagers whose crops have been devastated as a result of the stampede, become a factor that shows how the presence of Elsa the lioness is not always a positive impact on everyone around. One of the endearing parts of the story is seen when Joy and George travel to Kiunga on the instructions of George’s boss John Kendall, played by Geoffrey Keen, to deal with the menace of a lion that is killing goats in a local village.

George successfully manages to kill the lion and thereafter, he and Joy are able to share a holiday with Elsa, where the lovable lioness experiences the ocean for the first time! The Adamsons gradually awaken to the fact that Elsa cannot be kept with them permanently and that they must consider giving her to a zoo.

Kendall becomes quite clear on this matter but Joy who is simply against the thought of putting Elsa into a caged life insists that they try to reintroduce her to the wild. George’s boss gives them three months to achieve what is thought to be practically impossible. However, as Joy is determined to prevent Elsa from a fate in captivity, the Adamsons set themselves to the mission.

This proves to be a challenging task to them whose care for Elsa has made her so tame that she has not ever hunted and found food for herself in the wild. The process of reintegrating Elsa into the wild with systematic measures becomes an elaborate scheme with its share of trials and travails for George and Joy! Several memorable incidents happen in this regard which include Elsa’s duel with a warthog (which the ‘big cat’ loses!), and the Adamsons’ attempt to provide Elsa her first ‘date’ with a lone wild lion who is without a mate.

Elsa eventually starts leaving her human ‘parents’ for days at a time and begins to hunt animals for herself. Finally, George and Joy take Elsa out for her final test, which is to provide her the chance to join a pride of wild lions. After Elsa manages to fight with a wild lioness and prove herself worthy, she is accepted into the pride. The Adamsons realise that they have achieved what was thought to be practically impossible and that they have done their duty by Elsa.

Sometime later, the Adamsons return to Kenya. They eventually find Elsa and are delighted to see she has succeeded as a wild lioness and given birth to three cubs. Although Elsa provides her human parents access to her cubs Joy and George both agree that they will not interact with the cubs, allowing them to grow up as pristine wild lions.

A delightful movie which was based on a true story, ‘Born Free’ will not fail to delight movie lovers, in my opinion. It is the kind of movie that children and parents will find endearing to watch.

Hopefully, movies such as ‘Born Free’ will continue to find appreciation with movie lovers of this generation and new millennium.

The story of Elsa the Lioness is one of the great inspiring stories of how man and the ‘king of beasts’ may find love and harmony within the context of domestication. The closest story I have heard here in Sri Lanka, to that of the Adamsons’ remarkable life of living with a real life lioness, was that the late Robert Senanayake and his wife Neela, at one point in their lives, had adopted a lioness and named her ‘Elsa’! And that among the stories connected to this ‘Sri Lankan Elsa’ was that one day she had wondered off from the house unknown to her owners and was found innocuously paying an unsolicited visit to a neighbour of the Senanayakes, who must have surely through that startling experience found a story to pass down to posterity! The story of the existence of a ‘Sri Lankan Elsa’ comes to me from my own father J. C. Boange who when he was a preteen had witnessed firsthand the Senanayake’s pet lioness, during a visit to the Senanayake residence on Kynsey Road in Borella.

Not legend but fact, that there was, once upon a time, a real live lioness living in Borella, Colombo!