Virginia McKenna opens Born Free exhibition in London

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  • Virginia McKenna
    British actress
  • Bill Travers
    British activist (1922-1994)

Born Free star Virginia McKenna has opened an exhibition of life-sized bronze lions aiming to raise awareness of the plight of the animals.

The actress and wildlife campaigner, 90, starred in the 1966 film, which was set in Kenya, alongside her late husband Bill Travers and now runs The Born Free Foundation.

She opened the outdoor display at Waterloo Millennium Green in London alongside her eldest son Will, during the week in which her husband would have celebrated his 100th birthday.

Travers died in 1994 from a coronary thrombosis aged 72.

Born Free Forever exhibition
A visitor views lion sculptures at the Born Free Forever exhibition (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

They were also joined by Born Free patrons, presenter Gaby Roslin, Olympic athlete Sally Gunnell and author Lauren St John.

Created by artists Gillie and Marc Schattner, the exhibition aims to raise awareness and funds for lion conservation, as well as celebrate Elsa the lioness, the charity’s inspiration and symbol.

Its centrepiece features Elsa standing on top of a 4×4 surrounded by lions and cubs.

Orphaned while still a cub, Elsa was successfully returned to the wild by George and Joy Adamson, where she went on to have cubs of her own.

Born Free Forever exhibition
Virginia McKenna (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Also included in the exhibition are sculptures of Christian, a cub purchased from Harrods and returned to the wild, and King, a lion the foundation rescued from the exotic pet trade who now resides at its sanctuary in South Africa.

There is also a sculpture of Cecil, a 13-year-old lion who was killed by a US big game hunter and dentist in Zimbabwe in 2015, while the animal was the subject of a long-term research programme by Oxford University.

Will Travers, executive president and co-founder of the foundation, said: “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.”

Gillie and Marc Schattner said: “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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