Kate on Conservation

The Wind of Change: 35 years of Born Free

35 years ago the first Apple Macintosh went on sale; beloved British comedian Tommy Cooper collapsed and died on stage; the Space Shuttle Discovery took off on its maiden voyage… and a small charity was launched to end the suffering of wild animals in captivity, and put animal wellbeing at the forefront of conservation.

Born Free Foundation — or Zoo Check as it was then known — laid its foundations among political unrest in the UK, miners’ strikes, and human disease and starvation in Africa; which peaked with a global appeal from big-time celebrities of-the-day as they recorded a major charity single (Do They Know It’s Christmas Time?), under the collective name; Band Aid.

american eagle zoo check

Given that heart-wrenching scenes of famine in Ethiopia plagued the minds of the average citizen, along with strike-related violence and rising poverty in the former coal mining areas adding to personal unrest; inspiring the public to be concerned for the welfare of an elephant in a zoo or a lion in a circus — the very places where people took their families to escape from the worries of every day — seems like it must have been a near impossible task.

Pole Pole at London Zoo with Virginia and Bill
Pole Pole at London Zoo with Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna

I wasn’t around in 1984, I’m a child of the ‘90s. But at the recent launch event of a new online welfare initiative ‘Raise the Red Flag’, Born Free CEO Howard Jones explained that “35 years ago Pole Pole the elephant died and the timing ignited a series of events that lead to the creation of the Born Free Foundation. Today, people, time and technology have all come together once more to produce results.”

Born Free 35th Anniversary Gala

In one of the most beautiful evenings you can imagine, compassionate people, of all ages backgrounds and generations —all of whom have a passion for improving the lives of the voiceless with which we share this planet — came together to honour 35 years of compassionate conservation.

“The wind of change is blowing through the wildlife world…”  was the quote from the late Bill Travers (star of the Born Free film and Co-Founder of the Born Free charity), which inspired the events’ theme and optimism. 

An optimism which one could not miss when standing in a room full of people striving for change on both a large scale (in terms of changing laws and tackling major issues on the ground), and in terms of caring for the suffering individual’s needs.

The evening offered both celebration and poignancy; purpose and urgency to commemorate 35 years of the realisation of Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers and Will Travers’ vision of creating a charity that acts as a force for good: thinking of every individual animal’s suffering and striving to do something about it.

Born free foundation king the lion cub
King the lion cub

It really was quite special, to consider King the lion cub (pictured above) — rescued from the illegal pet trade after being kept in an apartment in Paris where he was caged and beaten — alongside a lion cub featured in a gut-wrenching new animation that uncovers the truth behind volunteer outlets that allow cub cuddling (watch below).

A significant sum of money was raised, but so too was motivation, determination and a huge amount of resilience, drive and humility at the task that lies ahead.

They say ‘it takes a village’; but behind Will, Virginia and Bill’s vision of a respect and positive co-existence between humans and wildlife, I saw an army — a beautiful, compassionate, but fierce army, willing to stand strong for all wildlife that needs protecting. 

Raise the Red Flag with Born Free

Equipped with all the right technology, tools, and talent, it feels like the wind of change is indeed blowing.

Between Born Free Foundation’s new anti-poaching aircraft (the so-called autogyro ‘dragons’), and their impressive new ‘Raise the Red Flagonline reporting platform; it’s clear that the future of conservation lies with strategic intervention and ‘on the ground’ action.

The beauty of this is; we can all do our bit.

Raise the Red Flag is an open-to-all platform created for submitting eyewitness reports about animals suffering in captivity. It aims to:

  • build an intelligence picture of what’s happening around the world
  • engage us all with clear visibility of inadequate animal welfare facilities
  • inform us what we can do about it.

Born Free’s beginnings are of course a big part of the ‘zoo debate’. Ahead of their time perhaps; Virginia, Will and Bill saw and understood the suffering that captivity can inflict on wild animals, and felt a passion to end it.

Before Blackfish taught us that orca can turn aggressive when confined to tanks, they told us that elephants were becoming depressed in small enclosures.

I’m sure that in the future, when we look back on these wildlife entertainment facilities in the same way we recoil at visions of animals in the colosseum, we’ll understand why the passion for change blustered up at that moment.

As Born Free CEO Howard noted at Raise the Red Flag’s launch; “We wouldn’t have got here without our founders”, and it is surely true that together, we can heed the call. 

The wind of change is blowing through the wildlife world. Will you travel with it?

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Learn more about Born Free

Find out more about the zoo debate

Learn more about elephants in captivity

Learn more about lions in captivity

Learn more about great apes in captivity

Learn more about orca in captivity

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