It was some years ago, she was one of several orphaned lion cubs raised by the Adamson family. There was both a book and a movie(Born Free) about them. Then, as so often happens when dealing with wild animals, Bad Things Happened.
Peter Capstick wrote about some of the events, when I have a chance I'll dig out his books and find it. For now, Keith the Commenter sent me this excerpt from Man Magnum magazine in South Africa, from letters to the editor:
When I wrote about the demise of Elsa (Jan ’06 edition) I ended by saying “a can of worms I fear”. Adrian House’s letter (“Elsa not man-eater”, May issue) proves me to be correct. But he is writing about Elsa when she was under Joy Adamson’s control, I am not. I knew William Hale and all east African professional hunters knew Ian Grimwood. I am sure they all read and approved of Adrian House’s book.
Later, when Elsa was fending for herself and her cubs in the wild, but having no fear of humans, she chose the easy way out. Lion had been vermin in Kenya for many years and were shot on sight, hence had an inbred fear of humans; Elsa had none. Ken Randal was not dreaming when he was shown the half eaten body of the game scout, and was told by the other game scout that he could not shoot the lioness, as it was Elsa that they were supposed to protect. When Ken informed the game department, he was told not to touch anything, they were on their way, and after removing the game scout’s remains, they replaced it with game meat which Elsa later ate. Shortly after that, the game department announced that Elsa had died of worms!
The game scout was sworn to secrecy and Ken was told not to talk about what he had seen. I visited Ken in his catching camps, at which time we both shared the same sorrow of knowing our loved ones had terminal cancer, so he confided in me on condition I told no one. (Ken’s livelihood depended on licences obtained from the game department.) It was not until 35 years later, having read Harry Selby’s remarks in Magnum on man-eaters that I broke my silence.
As a farmer and hunter in Kenya and having been a hunter in other African countries, I have never heard of an indigenous animal dying of tick fever (ECF) to which they are supposed to be immune. Pictures in the Kenya press of Elsa and her siblings (when Elsa was going to Joy Adamson and the others to zoos), showed that they were about 14 inches high at the withers; I have watched and filmed lion cubs half that size eating at the remains of a kill.
The Kenya game department did not want the truth known, as they were afraid the money coming in from Elsa’s fame would dry up. Unfortunately the one person from the game department who would confirm this, the late Rodney Elliot, with whom I first hunted in 1947, passed on to the happy hunting grounds in December 2005. It was said of Rodney, “He would take his own mother to court for breaking the game laws in his area.” Rodney did not go along with the story of Elsa dying of worms. Rodney was the last European Senior Warden to leave the department and was quite willing to talk about the cover-up. It appears Adrian House was completely taken in by it.
I heard there was a problem with Elsa a long time ago. When the last three of that “brood” from the Adamson lion familywere released into the Tuli block in Botswana, it created quite a stir. The Zimbabwe Dept of National Parks & Wildlife were issuing heavy lion quotas to the Zimbabwe hunters association (who hunted the Tuli Circle at the time) and also to the campfire project.
I received at least a dozen letters asking / pleading / demanding that we stop hunting lion in that area before these three famous and semi tame lion were shot. End result? I had to shoot one as a man-eater. A local farmer shot one that was killing domestic livestock, and a Bo-tswana policeman bravely shot the third (with a handgun I believe) when he saw the lioness stalking a woman.
I returned both collars taken from the lion shot on our side, officially handed over by Zimbabwe Parks to Botswana authorities. At the time, Rowan Martin was deputy director research, and he refused to let me send them the bill for my mileage, time etc. Human acclimatized lion released into the wild were a major pain in my time as a parks officer, and almost all ended up with a bullet in them, for good reason.
Dr Don Heath
Formerly Senior Ecologist, Zim NP&W
Which further points out one of the big problems with 'rehabilitating' a lot of animals, espeically predators: they wind up with no fear of/respect for man, and unless they learn that, people get chomped and the critter gets killed. Capstick once wrote that in/around some of the game parks in Africa where hunting was banned, it used to be that the sound of a gunshot would clear the predators out; they'd either move away or hide out. But at the time he wrote, a gunshot from a ranger killing a cripple or culling a herd would bring lions from long distances; a shot meant dead animal, or at least the guts, to eat. Which led to less respect for the people and more problems.
And who needs more problems with 3-400 pound predators?