I sleep lightly on safari because I don’t want to miss anything. My eyes are closed, but I hover in a dreamy half-awake state with ears attuned to every sound. During the middle of the night, the wind died. It was hot and still. I was cocooned in my mosquito net and sleeping on top of the covers. Slowly I became conscious of something on my toe. I reached for the flashlight under my pillow and turned the light on. Bright eyes beamed back at me and I realized that I had a visitor, and that he had been nibbling at my toe!
At dawn, Christopher brought me some coffee and biscuits. I had time for just a quick cup and decided to deed my biscuits to the other invaders of my room – rock hyraxes – that were perched on the same branch as the genet cat had occupied during the night.
It took us over an hour of straight driving to reach the gravesite, set along the Uru River. The camp had provided us with a guide in order to find the site – we would have been desperately lost for hours without the assistance of Wilson.
The Adamsons’ work with lions, particularly George’s, was controversial. A number of people were mauled by George’s lions, resulting in his eventual banishment from Meru to the remote wilderness area of Kora. The Adamsons also lived in Kenya at a time when the treatment of local staff would be considered offensive in our era of more enlightened race relations. Their advocacy for wild animals and their right to return to the wild, however, instead of being placed in zoos, brought attention to the threats that wildlife face as the expansion of human settlements puts ever more pressure on wildlife habitats.
Now, tall double fences at long stretches of the park keep the elephants from wandering into farmland and grazing areas, in order to decrease human/wildlife encounters that can be deadly. But the fences also prevent local livestock from reaching plentiful water sources during the dry seasons. The expansion of human settlements into wildlife areas means that this conflict will continue – as the population of Kenya increases and development expands there will be more competition for critical resources like water and grazing land.
Elsa likely died of tick fever. This is what George Adamson wrote in his diary, on the night that she died:
“During the night Elsa became restless, walked down to the river and into the water, then crossed to half a submerged mud bank and lay on it until about 4 a.m., I suppose to cool her fevered body. Her breathing was very labored and I knew the end was near.
I roused the camp and got my three boys to improvise a stretcher and we carried her back to my tent. I lay down beside her and started to doze off. Suddenly she got up, walked quickly to the front of the tent and collapsed. I held her head in my lap. In a few minutes she sat up and uttered a great and agonized cry. Elsa was dead.It may seem absurd but Elsa meant more to me than any other living creature has ever done. My Elsa gone. Gone the most wonderful friend and part of my life which nothing can replace. Why should it be? Something which has created nothing but good will and love in the world.”
Joy Adamson was murdered in Shaba National Reserve on 3 January, 1980 by a discharged laborer formerly employed by Adamson. George Adamson was murdered in 1989 while rushing to the aid of a tourist being attached by poachers.