Joy Adamson's story of a lion cub in transition between the captivity in which she is raised and the fearsome wild to which she is returned captures the abilities of both humans and animals to cross the seemingly unbridgeable gap between their radically different worlds. Especially now, at a time when the sanctity of the wild and its inhabitants is increasingly threatened by human development and natural disaster, Adamson's remarkable tale is an idyll, and a model, to return to again and again.
Illustrated with the same beautiful, evocative photographs that first enchanted the world forty years ago and updated with a new introduction by George Page, former host and executive editor of the PBS series Nature and author of Inside the Animal Mind, this anniversary edition introduces to a new generation one of the most heartwarming associations between man and animal.
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Whether fact or fiction lies at the root of tales which credit the Assyrians having trained lions as cheetahs, greyhounds, or retrievers are today trained to hunt in cooperation with man, the Adamsons can certainly claim to be the first for several thousand years to have made an approach to achieving that result with a lioness—and that, not by any deliberate attempt to do so, but merely by allowing the animal to grow up in their company and never allowing the animal to grow up in their company and never allowing her nature to be subjected to the strains of being confined in any way.
The history of the lioness Elsa, reared from earliest infancy to three years old and finally returned to a wild life, forms a unique and illuminating study in animal psychology—a subject to which the last half-century has seen a wholly new approach. Partly, no doubt, in revolt against the tendency of nineteenth-century writers to attribute to animals anthropomorphic qualities of intelligence, sentiment, and emotion, the twentieth century has seen the development of a school of thought according to which the springs of animal behavior are to be sought in terms of “conditioned reflexes,” “release mechanisms,” and the rest of a wholly new vocabulary which is regarded as the gateway to a clearer understanding of animal psychology. To another way of thinking, which cannot reconcile that mechanical conception with the diverse character, intelligence, and capabilities exhibited by different individuals of the same species, that gateway to understanding seems as far removed from truth as the anthropomorphism of a previous generation, and more apt to raise a further barrier to a sympathetic understanding of animal behavior than a revelation of it.
To whatever way of thinking the reader of Elsa’s history may lean, it provides a record of absorbing interest depicting the gradual development of a controlled character which few would have credited as possible in the case of an animal potentially as dangerous as any in the world. That such a creature when in a highly excited state, with her blood up after a long struggle with a bull buffalo, and while still on top of it, should have permitted a man to walk up to her and cut the dying beast’s throat to satisfy his religious scruples, and then lend her assistance in pulling the carcass out of a river, is an astonishing tribute no less to her intelligence than to her self-control.
If the most fanciful author of animal stories of the nineteenth century had drawn the imaginary character of a lioness acting in that manner it would have assuredly have been ridiculed as altogether “out of character” and too improbable to carry conviction—and yet Elsa’s record shows that it is no more than sober fact.
If in her development Elsa has made her own commentary both on the “anthropomorphism” of the nineteenth century and on the “science” of the twentieth, she has not lived in vain.
Table of ContentsForeword to the New Edition by Dr. George B. Schaller • 5
Preface by Lord William Percy • 9
Foreword by Captain Charles Pitman • 12
Cub Life • 17
Elsa Meets Other Wild Animals • 40
Elsa Goes to the Indian Ocian • 57
The Man-Eating Lions • 68
Safari to Lake Rudolf • 80
Elsa and Wild Lions • 110
The First Release • 126
The Second Release • 146
The Final Test • 172
Postscripts • 197
L'Envoi • 220