Friday, July 14, 2006

Remember Elsa the lion?

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:
Elsa 1

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.

John Northcote,

Elsa 2
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?


Anonymous said...

It is not the lions fault. that humans are keep taking there land and there is no room for them.
The real problem is us we do not have nay respect for lions or any other animals. They have every right to be here and to be free.
I cant see why you had to write this story.About elsa the lion she was doing what any lion woud do to feed her young cubs when she can not hunt,on her own and you shot her. Shame on you

Firehand said...

It's not a matter of 'fault'; it's noting what happens when big predators who have no fear of humans are in close proximity to them.

It's also not a matter of 'respect'. If it is, you have to respect the people who live there having the desire to keep kitty from using them for an entree.

Else was quite well able to hunt, she simply decided that whacking humans was a lot easier than chasing down antelope or facing off with a Cape buffalo. I wrote this to take note of the fact that, despite the Disney attitude of a lot of people, wild animals can be bloody dangerous. And shame on you for not being able to deal with that.

Anonymous said...

No one has a Disney attitude,and you say she was wild and dangerous.
And the humans are not!!
But you are from the US the gun country shoot anything and anyone.

Firehand said...

Part of the problem is she wasn't 'wild and dangerous'; she was part-domesticated(as much as a lion can be) so she didn't have the respect- or fear, if you will- of humans that most wild lions have. And that actually made her MORE dangerous.

Ah, yes, we get to "You people in the US don't care what you shoot!" Actually, we do. Evidenced by, among other things, lower violent crime rates than many "You peasants can't be allowed firearms" countries, and the fact that most wildlife here has recovered in numbers very nicely. Including some seriously dangerous ones like bears. Having a realistic attitude toward them doesn't mean we're going to kill all of them.

If you wish to widen this to humans, there's lots to be said about the hazards of dealing with feral types, but I'm speaking of animals. Large ones in particular.

Anonymous said...

There was never proof that Elsa had killed the warden and they could not definitely identify the lion that had made the attack. That is why nobody shot her. Secondly, her death was announced to prevent people going to find her. Why write this article attacking the wonderful work that the Adamsons did for the better of African wildlife? I see more more problems with people owning domestic dogs and not training them and resulting in children being mauled in their own backyards!
Nothing in this world is perfect and even the best of intentions can go awry. The wild animal population needs our help and support! Not people like you who could probably find a negative thing amidst an almost perfect bed of roses! Look at at our natural human tendency and start to realize that WE are not perfect but we Do have some very wonderful qualities as well as terrible.This goes for nature and it's wildlife population.
I fully support the 'Bornfree wildlife foundation' and hope that others follow the same. Maybe when we can fully appreciate all forms of life(including people like you), maybe then we can find hope in saving ourselves! Feel free to e-mail me at if you wish.

Keith said...

As the nasty Brit who passed the story to Firehand. I think i'd better add a comment.

I also support the Born Free Foundation (bought sponsorhips for my nephew and nieces for last Christmas) I would also support Jane Goodall's charity if the London office was not so imperialistic about calling the Republic of Ireland part of the United Kingdom, and trying to stop their other offices talking to us).

My support does not stop me taking note of problems of releasing human habituated large predators. we gain nothing by sweeping evidence under the carpet, it needs to be discussed and learned from.

I'm neither shooting animals these days, nor eating meat, but given the choice between seeing a person getting pounced on or me whacking the animal which lots of time effort and love have been spent on re-habilitating, my response would be split second: dead critter every time.

As to your comments about US citizens and shooting: If you would like to debate the ins and outs of responsible citizens being armed, both Firehand & I can point you towards a large body of background reading on the subject. It is too wide and important a subject to cover in a comments section.

Don't confuse dis-arming responsible citizens with controlling criminal mis-use of firearms. Britain's handgun ban is a shining example of just how ineffective that approach is. There are many more examples throughout the whole world.

The work of Gary Mauser, prof of criminology at SFU in Canada is a good place to begin reading.


Anonymous said...

I find this brief PURE RUBBISH. not worth the 90seconds I spent reading it. Stephen L.

Firehand said...

Glad you enjoyed it.

Anonymous said...

Interesting comments about Elsa. Today 02/28/09 a fellow at a swap meet in San Diego,CA had a taxidermied female lion he identifiede as Elsa on a trailer that he was offering for sale for $4500. If it is actually Elsa what a sad commentary. Chuck

Firehand said...

If it was her, I'd wonder
How he got hold of the remains in the first place, and
How the hell he got it into the country?

Yeah, she's one best left to go back to the earth, I think.

wildfolio said...

I don't believe that George Adamson, who raised Elsa, would have lied about her manner of death. He was with her at the time of her death and she was buried by him and the men who worked for him. No way is a lioness who's been stuff and for sale at some swap meet, the real Elsa. The sheer fact that someone would kill and stuff a beautiful lioness, is disgusting to me.

Firehand said...

Yeah, so everyone else lied. Ok.

wildfolio said...

I'd like to see your verified sources, what they said exactly, in context, the dates their statements were made, and their professional positions at the time of Elsa's death. It's no secret that there were people in wildlife management who strongly disagreed with George's methods. Are these people with an ax to grind, or who were jealous of George's fame related to Elsa, or wanted to show how destructive George's methods supposedly were, thereby strengthening their own positions? People can be quite convincing when their own reputations are at stake. The majority of people also used to think the earth was flat.

Firehand said...

Not sure why I'm bothering, but;
Problem here is the people passing the information on often did it years after the fact precisely because of the mess you mention, and noted in one of the comments above: saying bad things about Elsa & Co. could get someone working in the area in real trouble.

As I recall the original news story about Adamson's death said flatly that it was a lion, and tracking teams were out; by next day it was "Oh no, nothing like that, natural causes," etc. Which is enough to make one wonder.

I will also point out that a lot of people with an axe to grind want nothing bad said about the cats; some of the nastier comments I've ever had came from pointing to some of this information.

Anonymous said...

I have read this story here
several times and still don't
understand completely what the
point this writer is trying to
make. I believe that Elsa was
one-of-a-kind lion. In the fact
that she was able to make the
transition from home pet to a wild
animal. Everyone is different and
every animal is different and
Elsa was unique and different.
Maybe it was the strong bond she
had with the Adamson family or
maybe it was genetic disposition
who knows. But what I believe is
this, Joy Adamson, despite her
reasoning and so called love,
killed her lion. You can't tell me
that with her family's wealth that
she couldn't have found a better
solution than to let her pet lion
live in the wild! After all, it's
a known fact that domesticated
feral cats living out side usually
only live 2 to 3 years simply
because of the life they live
outside and the dangers it has.
Joy left her lion out in the
jungle! I cannot believe that she
couldn't create a small 5 acre
facility to house Else back in the
UK! Just like the people at "Big
Cat Rescue" Their cats don't live
on a 1000 acres, they live in an
area that works great for the big
cats. I also believe in Karma as
well. Think about it.It was her
idea to place Else back in the
wild where Else gets a worm from a
tick from the wild that she was
forced into. When Else passed
away, she died before Joy could
make it back in time with the
medicine and who did else died in
the arms of, George Adamson.
Payback is a bitch right!

If Joy had fought harder to keep
Else than to retrain her for the
wild, and found a better solution,
then maybe Joy Adamson might have
only had to go into her back yard
- big back yard, to see her Else
anytime and any day. Love is not
giving up on saving the thing you
love, not retraining them to cope
with separation.