There is the”Northern 5″ – The East African Oryx, the long-necked Gerenuk, Grevy’s zebra, the fishnet giraffe, and the Somali ostrich. There are Cape buffaloes, common ibex, and about 420 other animal species. But none of these attractions brought us here to one of the most remote and least touristy national parks in Kenya. We mainly came to Meru to visit Elsa Kopje, named after Elsa the Lioness in honor of the legendary conservationists George and Joy Adamson. All three became famous thanks to Born Free, the book Joy wrote about her inspiring life here in the wilds of Kenya, and the Film based on her awesome story.
GEORGE AND JOY ADAMSON
Meru National Park was established in 1966, the same year Born Free was released in the film. But George and Joy Adamson had already lived and worked in the area for more than a decade. George Adamson, who was born in India to British parents and moved to Kenya at the age of 19, entered the country’s games section in 1938. He eventually rose through the ranks to become the senior wildlife warden of the then Northern Frontier District.
ELSA THE LION
Before being released to the current Meru National Park, Elsa was raised by hand when she was only four days old. Joy initially treated the young animal like a pet, with many of the fun results you might expect when trying to train a young wild lion. But gradually, the Adamsons realized that they had to teach Elsa basic hunting and other skills if she ever wanted to survive alone in the wild. The problem was that at that time, in the mid-1950s, no one had yet tried to rehabilitate an orphaned lion.
THE RISE AND FALL OF MERU NATIONAL PARK
After Elsa’s death, the Adamsons faced their grief in different ways. Joy put her passion into her books and donated most of the proceeds to animal rights and conservation. George retired from his job as a gamekeeper to focus on protecting the lion.
He was known as “Baba ya Simba” or the father of lions. Virginia McKenna warmly remembers her friendship with the Adamsons during and after filming, especially the time spent together in Meru National Park.
THE REBIRTH OF MERU
“When we opened Elsas Kopje in 1999,” she recalls, “Richard Leakey supported us by putting Mark Jenkins – one of his most dynamic wildlife rangers – in charge of Meru Park. With the support of KWS, they have cleaned up the old roads, tracks, vehicles, and buildings, trained all the Rangers, created excellent community networks, and created support around the park. This has reduced Poaching to Zero.”
It is easy to understand why Stefano Cheli chose Mughwango Hill in 1999 for his elegant 5-star Safari Lodge. If Meru National Park were the backdrop for the Lion King, the granite Boulders above where George Adamson set up camp would be his rock of pride. Stefano and Liz had brought many of their clients to stay in Meru on mobile tent safaris. They finally decided that the hill, with its cool breeze and breathtaking views of the surrounding countryside, offered the ideal setting for a charming Lodge.
TODAY, MOUNT MERU EXPLORE THE PARK
Although we only spent 48 hours in Meru National Park, our safaris and downtime in Elsa Kopje left a number of awesome memories. From a Genet and a bush baby in an acacia tree to a Gerenuk standing on its hind legs to feed on the tastiest leaves of the bush, we saw something in Meru that we have not seen in any of the other seven parks and nature reserves we have visited in Kenya.