Born Free’s Virginia McKenna speaks out against lion trophy hunting

Born Free star Virginia McKenna OBE, has spoken out against lion trophy hunting during the March against Lion Trophy Hunting in London on Saturday (30 April).

The march took place on the same day as the historic ivory burn in Kenya which highlighted the danger the elephant and rhino populations face from illegal poaching and smuggling.

In 1980‚ more than 75‚000 wild lions roamed the African continent, but Lion Aid estimate that now, less than 20‚000 survive.

A letter signed by Professor Stephen Hawking and Joanna Lumley calling for an end to all African lion trophy imports to the United Kingdom, was taken to Downing Street during the celebrity-backed demo to protest.

Queen guitarist Brian May, and actor Peter Egan are also among the well known faces calling for an immediate ban on all lion trophy hunting imports.

Hundreds marched from Cavendish Sq in London to Downing Street to hear speeches from leading wildlife campaigners inspired by the global outcry over the death of Cecil‚ one of Zimbabwe’s most celebrated lions‚ killed in July last year by an American hunter.

Speaking at the event, Virginia McKenna, said: “The world has at last woken up to the tragedy facing Africa’s elephants and rhinos‚ but has been far too slow to realise the desperate plight of Africa’s lions.”

Co-Founder of Lion Aid, Pieter Kat‚ said trophy hunting was as morally‚ ethically and economically corrupt as drugs and people smuggling, adding: “It has no conservation benefit whatsoever‚ and a recent poll here in Britain showed 93 per cent of the public opposed it.”

Born Free and the Born Free Foundation

This year is the 50th Anniversary of the movie Born Free, in which McKenna played Joy Adamson, which told the true story of George and Joy Adamson’s fight to return Elsa the lioness to the wild.

The Adamson’s story was enjoyed by tens of millions around the globe, inspiring a generation, and changing the world’s attitude towards lions forever.

Making the movie profoundly affected Bill and Virginia and working with George and Joy influenced the rest of their lives. Their close contact with the lions sparked a lifelong commitment to wildlife and they realised wild animals belong in the wild, not incarcerated in captivity.

After the completion of the movie, Bill began to produce wildlife documentaries and films including ‘An Elephant Called Slowly’ (1969) which was also set in Kenya, and featured Bill and Virginia with Pole Pole (‘Po-lee Po-lee’), a little elephant calf.

Pole Pole was only two when she was snatched from her wild family as a gift from the then Kenyan government to London Zoo. When filming was over Bill and Virginia despite their best efforts to prevent the move, the little elephant calf was sent to London.

In 1982 Bill and Virginia went to see her there, discovering a lonely and deeply unhappy elephant, but one which still remembered the pair.

Bill and Virginia renewed their campaign to give Pole Pole a better life, but in 1983, despite the fact that elephants can live in the wild for over 60 years, she collapsed and died aged just 16.

Determined Pole Pole’s short life and untimely death should not be in vain, in 1984 Bill and Virginia launched Zoo Check with their son Will Travers. The charity evolved into the Born Free Foundation, of which Will is president.