From the plains below, you can barely see Elsa’s Kopje. Built in 1999, it was sculpted perfectly to fit around the rocks and grooves of Mughwango Hill; not a single native tree was felled. But while the lodge is almost invisible, its impact over the past 22 years has been immense.
Elsa’s Kopje saved Meru National Park. Before the lodge was built, Meru was barely visited; though it’s recognised as having more diversity of animal species than any other park in East Africa, there was talk of it being de-gazetted and turned over to crop plantations. But Elsa’s Kopje changed all that. This eyrie of elegant cottages has become one of the most romantic, most coveted boltholes in Kenya.
Each room is unique, each has enormous views over the vast plains. And as the only lodge within the park, guests have all this rugged, wildlife-rich wilderness to themselves.
The spirit of safeguarding and revival runs to the roots of the place, too. The lodge is built just above the site of the original camp where Joy and George Adamson raised Elsa the lioness – the true-life tale that was turned into the award–winning film Born Free and helped popularise the idea of animal conservation.
Staying at the lodge, managed by the wonderful Grace Leonard, you can still immerse yourself in Elsa’s story. You can sift through images and memorabilia from the Adamsons’ time, learn about their lives from the local staff (some of whom have worked at the lodge since its opening), drink sundowners at George’s Pool, where he brought the lions to swim, and pay a visit to Elsa’s grave.
You can also learn about the tireless work of the Kenya Wildlife Service and meet some of the team from the Born Free Foundation, the conservation charity founded by Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers, who played Joy and George in the film. The foundation works to stop the exploitation and suffering of animals both in captivity and the wild, building on the Adamsons’ legacy.
Heading out on safari you may even spot Elsa’s Pride. Named for the famous lioness and monitored by the Born Free Foundation, it’s one of the oldest prides in Meru. This large group of around 14 big cats spends much of its around Elsa’s Kopje, snoozing, hunting and, unusually, climbing tamarind trees, keeping the Adamsons’ vision alive.