On August 20, 1989, the much-loved British wildlife conservationist George Adamson was murdered by Somalian bandits in Kenya as he tried to defend his assistants from a brutal attack.
But Adamson lives on through the Born Free film based on the book by his wife Joy, as well as numerous documentaries and in seminal YouTube clips.
But above all, Adamson’s legacy survives through the Born Free Foundation – the charity set up by actors Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, who were inspired to take up the fight after playing the parts of George and his wife Joy in the Born Free film.
To mark the 25th anniversary of his hero’s death, Will Travers OBE, son of Virginia and Bill and now the president of the charity, tells BT.com how Adamson changed the way the world viewed wild animals.
“What he and Joy did – by telling the story of Elsa - they ignited a compassion and interest around the world,” says Will.
“Before Born Free lions were portrayed as ruthless and terrifying in books such as John Henry Patterson’s The Man-eaters of Tsavo – but George showed animals were individuals with personality.”
Born Free shared the true story of a lioness called Elsa, hand-raised with her siblings by George and Joy after they were orphaned. Her sisters went to a zoo in the Netherlands but George and Joy taught Elsa to survive in the wild before releasing her.
“This was written in the late 1950s and 1960s,” Will continues. “At that time to suggest wild animals had personality was heresy.
“Now anyone who has a dog or cat knows very well each animal has needs, characteristics and personality.
“Their work was to bring those same characteristics to a wild animal for the first time.”
Not only does 2014 mark 25 years since Adamson’s death, but it also marks 50 years since the Born Free film was filmed, 30 years since the charity was set up, and 20 years since the death of Bill Travers.
“Without his work and without Joy there would be no Born Free Foundation,” says Will. “The film would have never been made.”
Born Free was made before the dawn of computer-generated graphic and trick photography, meaning that Will’s parents got up close and personal with the big cats.
“They took significant risks,” he recalls. “There was one scene where dad had soap in his eyes and had a lion in the bathroom with him, which was a dangerous thing to do.
“But because George had spent so much time with mum and dad and the lion, and had showed them how to behave around lions, they felt safe.”
The UK-based Born Free Foundation - which originated as the Zoo Check Campaign set up by Bill and Virginia - is now an umbrella organisation consisting of seven campaigns.
“Born Free was built on the philosophy to treat animals like humans – as an individual and not a number," says Will.
“It is about a relationship based on respect – we as humans have a privilege to travel and explore, so we want to use that to interact with the species and conserve for future generations.”
Reflecting on George’s death, Will said his legacy was the most important thing.
“He died as he would have lived,” he says. “He was a risk-taker and when he saw this girl ambushed by the bandits – he risked losing his life.
“He went at the bandits and they shot him but his legacy is the most important thing.
“If anyone is reading this and thinking ‘what can I do?’ – well the answer is two-fold: don’t do nothing because nothing is the enemy of action. Shakespeare put it well: ‘Nothing will come of nothing’.
“Instead - do something – it doesn’t matter if it is supporting the Born Free Foundation or another organisation.
“Give nature a break, give the natural world five minutes and it will make a world of difference for nature and for wildlife.
“That is what George would have wanted.”
For further information or to support the charity please visit the Born Free Foundation website.