We talk to Elsa’s Kopje’s General Manager, Grace Leonard about the property’s connection with Born Free and conservation history.
Please tell us the story behind the camp's name
Elsa’s Kopje was named after the orphaned lioness, Elsa, reared by Joy and George Adamson who eventually returned her to the wild in Meru in 1958. George and Joy lived near where Elsa’s is located in a camp they name 'Kampi ya Simba' (Camp of Lions). Legend has it that George and Joy would take hikes with Elsa the Lioness to Mughwongo Hill back in the 1950s. They would make it in time for sunrise thereafter they would take her back to camp. When you visit Elsa’s, you will see a display of photos of George and Joy Adamson taken at Mughwongo Hill. Elsa’s Story inspired Joy’s renowned book, “Born Free”, made famous by the Hollywood film that premiered in 1966.
How can guests immerse themselves in the Born Free history when staying at Elsa’s
The management and guides at Elsa's Kopje Meru always share the Born Free story. For guests that want to explore the history in detail, we can arrange visits to the following locations:
- Elsa's Grave: Elsa's is Buried here, and part of Joy Adamson ashes were spread here
- Pippa's Grave: Pippa the Cheetah is buried here, and the other part of Joy Adamson’s ashes are spread here
- Georges Pool: This was George Adamson's favourite sundowner spot
- Old Kampi ya Simba: This is situated 500 meters from Elsa's Kopje grave
- George Adamson Fig Tree: George used to take his lions here to drink water whilst he smoked his pipe and had his breakfast
- George Adamson Falls and Tana River Bridge
- George Adamson Grave in Kora National Park: He is buried next to his brother Terence, Boy the lion and Mugie
- Kampi ya Simba: George's Camp in Kora National Park
Are guests likely to see relatives of Elsa on safari in Meru
It is certainly rumoured that relatives of Elsa’s roam the plains of Meru National Park today.
Could you tell us about the ongoing relationship that Virginia McKenna has with Elsa’s Kopje
We are so delighted that Virginia McKenna has visited the property for years since she filmed Born Free. In the earlier years, she spent time here with her husband and fellow actor, Bill Travers, and most recently she returned to the property for the 60th anniversary of the film.
What is your favourite part of the Born Free history
Post 1960s, the Born Free story created a change in attitude towards animals and spurred a conservation movement, which was quite different from the old colonial style of keeping land aside for hunting. It started the parks and private concession where animals are kept aside and protected by us. There was also a change of attitude towards 'caging' the animals - case in point, the lions that were actors in the Born Free movie were supposed to be sold to zoos around the world so that the producers could recoup some of the production costs. For Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, this was against the story of what the Born Free movement was all about, and they lobbied hard to have all the lions released into the wild. Eventually, the producers agreed to release the lions, Boy, Girl, and August, who were kept at Kampi ya Simba for rehabilitation.