Who could forget the moving, true story of the lioness, Elsa in Born Free? One tragedy and many decades later, meet Mugie, the future generation’s hope for a lion habitat resurrected from the ashes of George Adamson’s dream. This is Martin Clunes: A Lion Called Mugie.
When he’s not running around solving comedic medical mysteries in the Cornish countryside in the popular series, Doc Martin, British actor Martin Clunes is busy pursuing his real passion, wildlife conservation. For years, Clunes has advocated on behalf of animals big and small, most notably in 1998 releasing an elephant named Nina back into the wild after her captivity for 27 years in a Tanzanian zoo. During that adventure, Clunes partnered with wildlife naturalist, Tony Fitzjohn, who had been the protege and right-hand to George Adamson for almost 20 years until Adamson’s brutal murder at the hands of Somali bandits in 1989. After 24 years, Fitzjohn finally finished rebuilding Kampi Ya Simba (camp for the lions) in an exact replica, with the hopes of resuming Adamson’s work to rehabilitate captive and orphaned lions, releasing them back into the wild. All he needed was one lion cub with whom to launch the new camp. With the support of Kenya Wildlife Service and his old friend Martin Clunes (himself a Patron of the Born Free Foundation), the two paired up again to retrieve an orphaned male cub, named Mugie, who at the age of 3 weeks had been discovered washed up on a Kenyan river bank. Filmed over a three-year period, this enchanting 45-minute documentary covers the ups and downs of Mugie’s development while hopes and expectations are placed on not only his future but on the future of the dwindling lion population in Africa.
If ever a single movie could galvanize an entire generation to the awareness of a cause, it would be Born Free. The movie starred real husband & wife, Bill Travers (as George Adamson) and Virginia McKenna, who played Joy Adamson (upon whose memoir the iconic film was based). After filming the story of the Adamsons and Elsa, Travers and McKenna themselves started the Born Free Foundation. In fact, Virginia McKenna herself appears briefly in the documentary, joining Clunes at the exact same spot where the real Elsa was famously released into the wild those many years ago. As she states, “What this story tells you is that relationships between humans and wild animals can surmount all the sorts of prejudices and fears and everything, and lift you out of yourself really. It is a spiritual thing.”
I think it’s fair to say we could all use some spiritual lifting up out of ourselves right about now. In fact, this is just what the Doctor ordered.
Martin Clunes & A Lion Called Mugie is presently streaming on Netflix and is also available on YouTube.
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YouTube Trailer Courtesy of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=18p-Xl5x-OY
Trailer for the film, Born Free, Courtesy of: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=e1wpbCbPP7U