Born Free roars into 2022 with exhibition of 25 life-size lions


Published January 7, 2021

London, 7th January 2022: International wildlife charity Born Free is opening a moving and powerful exhibition, starting in London and touring the UK, before concluding in Edinburgh this autumn, to celebrate and fight for the long-term survival of the majestic lion, whose numbers are declining so drastically they could be extinct across much of their wild range within 30 years.

Virginia McKenna OBE, star of the Born Free film and Co-Founder of the charity, alongside eldest son Will Travers, OBE, Co-Founder and Executive President, will be opening the Born Free Forever exhibition on London’s Millennium Green in the week that would have seen Bill Travers, Virginia’s husband, co-star and Co-Founder, turn 100, but for his sudden and tragic death in 1994. They will be joined by Born Free Patrons Gaby Roslin, Sally Gunnell OBE and Lauren St John for the London launch of this stunning exhibition of life-sized bronze lions.

Created by world-renowned monumental artists, Gillie and Marc, Born Free Forever will raise awareness and vital funds for lion conservation, and is a celebration of Elsa the lioness – the charity’s original inspiration and iconic symbol of hope. Elsa was successfully returned to the wild by George and Joy Adamson, where she went on to have cubs of her own.

The exhibition’s centrepiece features Elsa standing on top of a vintage 4×4 surrounded by lions and cubs, capturing the essence of the classic 1966 film Born Free, which starred the charity’s Co-Founders Virginia McKenna OBE and Bill Travers MBE, telling Elsa’s true story.

Each of the other lions in the exhibition tells a story of the stark reality and brutal challenges facing lions today. From Christian, the cub purchased from Harrods and successfully returned to the wild, to Makena, the Kenyan lioness living in the Born Free-supported Meru National Park, now with cubs of her own. And King, the lion Born Free rescued from the exotic pet trade, now given lifetime care at their sanctuary in South Africa, along with Louga, rescued from the circus, and Cora, saved from appalling conditions in a Spanish zoo.

They are joined by Cecil, killed by an American trophy hunter in Zimbabwe. In a move likely to be followed by other governments, the UK has announced an imminent ban on trophy hunting imports. However, Born Free continues to campaign for a worldwide end to this barbaric activity, which Cecil famously brought to the world’s attention in 2015.

In the 1960s, when the film Born Free was made, there were approximately 200,000 lions in the wild. Today as few as 20,000 remain. A terrifying decline of 90% in just 55 years.

To ensure their survival in the wild and to campaign for the welfare in captivity, 2022 has been named Born Free’s ‘Year of the Lion’ – a year of action for lions in honour of what would have been the 100th birthday of our charity’s fearless founder Bill Travers MBE. A Forever Lions Fund, set up in memory of Bill, will use money raised from the exhibition, and activities throughout the year, to protect wild lions, resolve predator conflict with local people, and stop the slaughter of lions by trophy and canned lion hunting.

The public will also be invited to join the Born Free Pride, an exciting opportunity to receive exclusive updates and content, plus the chance to virtually meet Virginia and Will for coffee in August 2022 on World Lion Day.

Will Travers OBE, Executive President and Co-Founder of Born Free, stated “Lions face many challenges, both in the wild and in captivity. We simply cannot ignore the declining numbers for a moment longer. This life-size, outdoor, bronze sculpture exhibition, featuring iconic lions, including Elsa on top of a 4×4, tells the true stories behind the issues they face. I encourage everyone to visit us in London not only to marvel at the exhibition and learn more about the plight of these emblematic and majestic creatures but help us fundraise and campaign so that there is a forever for lions.”

“We are all so inspired by Gillie and Marc’s creative vision and passion for lions. Their glorious work is a showstopper, a genuine world-first and we’d love everyone who loves lions to get involved. A positive global force for wildlife, Born Free is all about freedom for all species. Wild lions and all they represent are the living symbols of our charity. Through these extraordinary sculptures, the spirit of Elsa lives on and burns brighter than ever.”

Virginia McKenna OBE, Will Travers OBE and Born Free Patrons open Born Free Forever exhibition featuring 25 life size lions in London’s Millennium Green to mark Born Free’s Year of the Lion.

Gillie and Marc, who created the sculptures, added “The bronze cubs symbolise the future generations of lions that can be created with hard work, dedication and a lot of love. The lion is a big part of our national identity and personifies the qualities of what it is to be British; strength, courage and pride. If wild lions were to become extinct, we would lose part of ourselves.”

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