Another kind of pride will be at the fairgrounds starting today, as 25 life-size bronze lions arrived at the downtown beauty spot.
The international wildlife charity Born Free brings born free forever to Newcastle to raise awareness of the plight of the world’s lion population, after a stint at Millenium Green in Waterloo, London. It will be opened by the star of the 1966 film born free, Virginia McKenna.
The installation of the exhibition in the Northeast is particularly poignant for Virginia and her son Will Travers, co-founders of the association. Born Free Forever is part of a year of action for lions in memory of Virginia’s late husband and Will’s father, Bill Travers MBE, a Houghton-Le-Spring born and raised wildlife activist who is believed to have 100 years this year if it were not for this sudden and tragic death in 1994.
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The free exhibit was the largest of its kind in the UK and each lion has its own story, highlighting the serious threats these big cats face both in captivity and in the wild. Wild lion numbers have drastically declined from around 200,000 a century ago to just 20,000 today and they could disappear across much of their wild range within the next 30 years.
Animal activist Virginia and Executive Chairman of Born Free Will will be joined by Thea Caine, 10, a Born Free Junior Ambassador and 50 of her classmates from Burnopfield Primary School who will take part in an art workshop based on the lion led by Northeast based animal artist Jane Lee McCracken.
Virginia McKenna OBE, Co-Founder and Trustee of Born Free, said: “I am deeply moved to bring our magnificent Born Free Forever Lion Exhibit to the North East, the area where my beloved husband Bill was born and raised. . He always remembered his roots. , his loyalty and affection for the community never faded, and I know the people here will share his desire to save the majestic lion.”
Virginia and Bill are fondly remembered around the world for their portrayal of George and Joy Adamson in the 1966 film born free, which tells the true story of efforts to rehabilitate an orphan lioness named Elsa and return her to the wild. The centerpiece of the exhibition presents a representation of Elsa, who is the inspiration of the association, standing on a 4 x 4.
Will Travers OBE, Executive Chairman and Co-Founder of Born Free, said: “Lions face many challenges, both in the wild and in captivity. We simply cannot ignore the calamitous decline in membership for a moment longer.
“This exhibition of life-size bronze sculptures in the open air, featuring iconic lions, including the famous Elsa atop a 4×4, tells the true stories behind the issues they face. I encourage everyone to visit us in Newcastle, a city with deep family ties, not only to marvel at the exhibit and learn more about the plight of these iconic and majestic creatures, but to help us fundraise and campaign so that there is an eternity for the lions.”
A Forever Lions Fund has been established in Bill Travers’ honor, with money raised from the exhibit and other donations to help protect wild lions, resolve human-predator conflicts, care for rescued lions and stop the killing of lions for trophy and canned lion hunting. For more information, visit the Born Free Forever site.
born free forever will be on display at the Newcastle Exhibition Center from 4 April to 3 June.
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