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Famous animal graves draw tourists

By | March 29th 2012

Because of their unique attributes and attachment to human beings, some animals have been immortalised and their graves have become tourist attractions, writes HAROLD AYODO

Just like human celebrities, some famous animals have been immortalised and their memory lives on through their graves that attract tourists from all over the world.

Examples of such graves are at the Meru National Park where the story behind the icon animals draws visitors to their graves. One of the famous animals that has been buried here is Elsa, a lioness who was raised by George Adamson, a game warden, and his wife Joy. Elsa was born in January 1956 and died on January 24, 1961.

Kenya Wildlife Service officer, Zacharia Mwangi, points at Elsa’s grave at the Meru National Park. [Photo:Harold Ayodo/Standard]

She lived like a domesticated pet and Joy considered their relationship as that of equals.

According to the assistant director of the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) Eastern Conservation Area, Jonathan Kirui, Joy was determined to raise Elsa.

"She gave Elsa the education needed to hunt and live in the wild, earning the lioness worldwide fame," says Kirui.

Born Free

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When Elsa was three years old, she brought three cubs of her own from the wild to show to the Adamsons.

"The Adamsons named the male cubs Jespah and Gopa while the female was Little Elsa," Kirui says.

The story of Elsa was published in a blockbuster movie titled Born Free and later the lives of her cubs were covered in another movie titled Living Free.

Unfortunately, Elsa died of Babesia felis, a blood disease similar to malaria, which infects the cat family.

"When Joy Adamson died, she was cremated and her ashes were scattered on Elsa’s grave according to Joy’s wishes," Kirui says.

 Even though the grave attracts several conservationists annually, it is not easy to locate it without the assistance of tour guides or KWS officials.

"The easiest way to locate the grave is to follow baobab trees in the park. It could, however, take forever for a stranger to locate it," says Zacharia Mwangi, a KWS officer.

Another celebrity grave is that of Pippa – a cheetah and her cub that were darlings to Joy.

According to KWS records, Pippa was born in 1964 and died on October 7, 1969. Joy’s ashes were also scattered on her grave.

Duse – a giraffe that was friendly to humans — has also been buried in the park.

Celebrity animals

Another animal whose grave is a magnet to tourists is Sam, a lion cub that featured in Born Free.

Sam was killed by a wild lion called Big Men and to avenge for its death, George Adamson shot and killed it.

According to Kirui, conservationists who know stories behind the celebrity animals adore their graves.

"Some tourists are very emotional when they pay homage to the graves. They take several pictures and even capture images on video," Kirui says.

According to Kirui, the graves of the icon wildlife have increased the number of visitors to the rejuvenated park.

"The graves are all on different parts of the expansive national park. Interested tourists often set aside a day to tour the graves," says Mwangi.

Joy was born in January 20, 1910 in Austria, Hungary and was murdered on January 3, 1980 at Shaba National Reserve. Nine years later, armed bandits attacked and shot dead George Adamson. Shaba National Reserve was elevated to a national park.

Apart from the graves, Meru National Park is also home to a wide range of wildlife including the reticulated giraffes, elephants, hippopotamus, lions, leopards, cheetahs and an impressive birdlife with over 280 species.

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