Born Free Author Joy Adamson Meets An Ironic Death in the African Bush
updated 01/21/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST
•originally published 01/21/1980 AT 01:00 AM EST
Born to wealth in Hapsburg Austria, even as a child she adored the deer and foxes that abounded on the family estate. A 1937 vacation in Kenya introduced Joy to her personal paradise. She worked there as a highly accomplished painter of plants and animals until she met George Adamson on safari in 1945. An Anglo-Irish game warden, he became her third husband, and Joy discovered her true vocation: surrogate mother to foundling wild cats.
After raising Elsa, whose mother George shot in self-defense, Joy taught the mature lion to hunt and reintroduced her to the wild. Out of that experience came three books, a movie, a hit song, a TV series and the Elsa Wild Animal Appeal for conservation. In recent years Joy welcomed cheetahs and leopards into her adopted family. But her marriage grew strained, and since 1971 the Adamsons have not lived together. "You have to be part of nature to understand it; and you can only do that when you are completely in tune with it," Joy wrote a decade ago. "I find I can only do it when I'm alone. I'm not a hermit, but there is no other way I can do it if I am to go into the depths of an animal's solitary life and be in tune with what it means. But it means a terribly lonely life."
Living on the Shaba Game Preserve in central Kenya, she would spend her days in the bush, customarily returning by 7 p.m. to listen to the news on BBC shortwave. When she failed to appear on January 3, her employees began to worry and an hour later found her body near the compound. "It was a tragedy that she was taken from us in the bush surrounded by the animals she loved so well," said the Rev. Bill Owen, delivering the eulogy over a coffin crowned with a wreath of African flowers. The real tragedy, said many of Joy's acquaintances, is that the naturalist had grown so intemperate in recent years, alienating even the people closest to her and treating aides as chattel. "She got so lost in her animals," says her former secretary Kathy Porter, "that she lost compassion for homo sapiens."