Joy Adamson (1910-1980) was a wildlife conservationist, writer, and painter whose work with African wildlife brought international attention to the plight of wild animals around the world. She is best known for her novel Born Free, which led to a 1966 film and an American television series. Joy-Friederike Victoria Gessner was born in Troppau, Silesia, Austria-Hungary (now Opava, Czech Republic), on Jan. 20, 1910, Joy-Friederike Victoria Gessner was raised in Vienna in an upper-class family.
Adamson went to Kenya, Africa, in 1937, and she remained in Africa for the rest of her life. In 1942, she met George Adamson, a British game warden in the North Front District. They married in 1944.
In 1956, George Adamson brought home three lion cubs, whose mother he had shot in self-defense. Joy Adamson kept the smallest of the three and named her Elsa, and the other two were donated to the Rotterdam Zoo, handpicked for its humane treatment of animals.
Elsa was raised in the Adamson household. The couple trained Elsa to develop her natural hunting skills so that she could survive on her own in the wild. After her release into the wild, Elsa found a mate and raised three cubs. The story of Adamson's work with Elsa and the experience of reintroducing the young lioness into the wild as an adult were the basis of Adamson's first novel, Born Free, published in 1960, and of a movie of the same name, released in 1966. Two sequel novels followed. Living Free (1961) and Forever Free (1962), all of which served to further greatly the international movement for wildlife conservation. In 1961. Adamson founded the Elsa Wild Animal Appeal, an international organization providing financial support to educational and conservationist projects.
The Adamsons were among the first conservationists to train a captive animal to establish its wild nature. They also worked to control poaching, the illegal killing of animals to obtain animal skins or the ivory of elephant tusks. In addition to living closely with lions, the Adamsons had similar experiences with cheetahs and leopards. Joy Adamson reported on these experiences in her books, The Spotted Sphinx (1969), Pippa's Challenge (1972), Joy Adamson's Africa (1972). and Queen of Shaba (1980). She also wrote an autobiography. The Searching Spirit (1978).
Adamson worked with wild animals the rest of her life. She was found dead in her compound at Shaba National Reserve, Kenya, on Jan. 3, 1980. It was at first thought she had been mauled by an animal, but later it was determined to be murder, and a former employee was convicted.
Adamson left more than 600 of her paintings to the National Museum of Kenya.