Pride & Joy. Thirty Years after Her Death, Joy Adamson's Legacy Lives On

Daily Mail (London), April 10, 2010 | Go to article overview

Pride & Joy. Thirty Years after Her Death, Joy Adamson's Legacy Lives On


Byline: by CLAIRE FOOTTIT

MENTION the Sixties film epic Born Free and most people will sigh sympathetically. It's one of those movies that's passed down the generations, touching hearts as it goes.

Based on Joy Adamson's endearing story about Elsa the lion, it tells the tale of a tiny cub, hand-reared on bottled milk, who successfully makes the transition back to the wild and in turn has cubs of her own.

This year marks the 30th anniversary of Joy's murder and I'm at Joy's Camp in Shaba National Reserve in Northern Kenya. It is hot and dry. Dust devils swirl. Monolithic rockfaces rise on the horizon -- the distinctive hills of Shaba, Bodich and Ol Kanjo.

The only reprieve is an emeraldgreen fringe marking the passage of the Ewaso Nyiro river (meaning 'muddy waters' in the local Samburu language) and the marshy areas around Chaffa and Joy's Camp.

Lying in a grove of acacia trees, the camp is low key, but the perfect antidote to the blistering heat of this harsh environment. The bar, dining area and pool are sited to catch any breeze, with open views to the swamp where a herd of buffalo is in residence. A guide leads me to my tent.

Near its entrance a dainty bird, a Paradise fly-catcher with long chestnut tail feathers, nests in a small thorn tree. The spacious, airy tent is exquisitely designed on a Moorish theme inspired by the local Boran tribe.

Like the wildlife, I opt for an afternoon siesta and sink on top of the comfortable bed. Propped up on colourful cushions, I gaze out at an elephant family less than 200 yards away.

After a reviving cup of tea and homemade biscuits, my guide Justice takes me on an evening game drive. His favourite animal is the leopard and he is determined to find one for me.

We head out in an open Land Rover skirting past buffalo and onto a lava ridge. Tiny antelope, called dik dik, freeze as we drive past, before darting off into thicker bush.

'We have two types here, the common dik dik and Gunther's, which has a longer nose,' says Justice.

The spreading branches of darkbarked Acacia tortilis trees -- umbrella thorns -- are the perfect spot for a languishing leopard. But it is by a fallen tree that we get a fleeting glimpse of a tiny cub. I just make out its dark, rounded ears before it ducks down into the long grass, not to reappear.

The size of a domestic moggy, Justice estimates it's a couple of months old and is obviously dispirited that our leopard sighting was so tantalisingly brief.

Next morning, just after sunrise, we set off towards the Ewaso River Gorge with an additional driver, Peter, and armed game scout Abdi, who's rather swamped by his uniform.

The rockface of Shaba hill is glowing a deep pink. There's more action on the plains -- a few ostrich and Grant's gazelle -- while in the thorn scrub, gerenuk, dubbed giraffe antelope due to their long necks, are standing on their hind legs nibbling the young shoots of acacia leaves.

Leaving Peter with the vehicle, we follow the gorge along ochre-coloured rocks. It is steep in parts, a good 30ft drop to the brown torrent of water swirling below. …

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