George Adamson (1906–1989) was a wildlife conservationist and game warden in East Africa. His work with animals in the wild is most well known through the story of Elsa, a lion cub that he and his wife. Joy Adamson, raised and then reintroduced into the wild. With his wife, he became known as one of the pioneers of the global wildlife conservation movement.
Adamson was born in privileged colonial India in 1906 to an English mother and an Irish father. After finishing public school in England in 1924, he went with his parents to Kenya, East Africa, where they had relocated to grow coffee. Bored with plantation life, Adamson tried several other pursuits as a young man, including gold prospecting and goat trading. Finally, in 1938, he settled in as a game warden at Meru National Park in Kenya's North Front District.
Adamson met Austrian Joy Gessner in 1942 and married her in 1944. In 1956, he tracked a lion that was terrorizing villagers and, in doing so startled a lioness and her cubs in the deep bush. When the lioness charged, he killed her in self-defense and then brought home her three motherless cubs. Adamson and his wife then turned their full-time attention to raising the smallest of the three and reintroduced her back into the wild as an adult. Born Free (1960), a novel by Joy Adamson based on George Adamson's diaries of the experience, became an instant bestseller and brought the couple international attention as conservationists.
When a lion mauled a game warden's son in 1969, Adamson was expelled from the reserve and reestablished camp in Kora, a remote wasteland north of Nairobi. In 1980, another lion mauled Adamson's younger brother, causing the government to shut down Adamson's “reintroduction” program. From that time on, he remained at Kora, working to protect big game from the incessant attacks of poachers. He was killed by bandits outside his camp on Aug. 20, 1989.