Friday, January 20, 2017

Birthday: "Wildlife is something which man cannot construct. Once it is gone, it is gone forever. Man can rebuild a pyramid, but he can't rebuild ecology, or a giraffe."


Friederike Victoria Gessner Klarwil Bally Adamson (1910-1980)
Author, conservationist

Joy Adamson became an accidental celebrity in 1960, and died twenty years later an internationally-mourned wildlife conservation campaigner.

She was born in the last prewar years of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, to wealthy parents who divorced when she was ten. Neither wanted to keep her, so her grandmother raised her.

Insulated from life’s more common problems, Joy thought of becoming a doctor, but balked at taking the entrance exams.

She tried being a concert pianist but didn’t like performing in public.

She essayed dress design, metal crafts, painting, bookbinding, and archaeology.

In 1935, she married an Austrian businessman, Viktor von Klarwil, a Jew, who sent her ahead to Africa to find them a safe place to live out the coming second world war. Shortly after arrival, she met and fell in love with a British botanist, Peter Bally.

She divorced Viktor (who survived the Nazis and died in London in 1985), and married Bally (who preferred calling her “Joy” over her former nickname, “Fifi”), in 1938.

She traveled with Bally on his collecting trips, drawing specimens and falling in the Louis and Mary Leakey, then an unknown married team of anthropologists. She leveraged those connections into a contract to do a voluminous series of illustrations of the tribes of Kenya, which went to the National Museum.

Bored of Bally, she divorced him in 1944 and embarked on her third marriage in ten years, to India-born Briton George Adamson, then working as a ranger in the Kenyan Parks Service. But for a 1956 accident, she would have eventually divorced him and died a minor colonial celebrity.

A lioness charged George Adamson, defending her litter. He killed her, and brought the cubs home. Two were sold to the Rotterdam Zoo; the Adamson’s hatched a plan to train the last, Elsa, how to be a lion and release her into the wild.

To the surprise of nearly all, the scheme worked. Elsa, once freed, successfully adapted and became the first recorded lioness to not only do so but have cubs of her own. Elsa died of a tick bite in 1961, and her cubs, causing mayhem in villages around the reserve, were relocated to the Serengeti.

Joy Adamson turned the experience into a book, Born Free. It spent thirteen weeks on The New York Times’ Bestseller List, and was turned into an equally successful 1966 film and later sequels. The film score, by John Barry, won the Oscar, Golden Globe, and Grammy for best score; the theme song has haunted elevator passengers and supermarket shoppers for half a century. The song, a real earworm, was, most recently, a recurring element of the music in the murderous TV series, Dexter.

By 1969 the Adamsons had separated. Joy loved the life of best-selling author and conservation lecturer, and, sensing the lion craze was waning, shifted her interest to cheetahs.

George preferred sticking with lions; retired from the Parks Service, he lived in a camp, training orphaned lions for release until 1980, when the Kenyan government banned the practice after a trainer was mauled. To their credit they donated the proceeds of the Born Free brand to conservation programs. Joy Adamson wrote twelve books on African and wildlife topics; appeared on a BBC quiz show for years, and played small parts in several British television series.

The Adamsons never divorced, and got together for Christmas every year until 1980, when Joy, almost seventy, was murdered by an angry employee she’d fired. He avoided the noose when the prosecution could not prove he was an adult at the time.

Coming up for parole in 2004, he told The Guardian he’d killed her after she shot him in the foot for complaining about unpaid wages. The man claimed Adamson regularly shot at employees who displeased her; when she winged one, she paid for their treatment and then bought their silence. Friends admitted that she was certainly strong-willed, but unlikely to practice mayhem at that level.

George continued to live alone at his camps, running a wildlife education program for tourists, until 1989, when, coming to the aid of a tourist under attack by poachers, he was, himself, murdered by one. The Adamsons’ deaths cast a pall over ecotourism in Kenya for years, and their work has come in for its share of criticism. Lions were never an endangered species, and the Adamsons’ methods lacked scientific rigor. But they were major figures in the popularization of wildlife conservation in the 1960s, and in that their reputations stand securely.

#LiteraryBirthdays #HenryBemisBooks #BornFree

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