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Be the one traveler, long I stood

I believe in journeys.

I believe in journeys because they bring change and challenge and movement.

Journeys bring progress. They bring knowledge and hunger and resilience. Often frustration, always triumph; if you afford yourself such things.

The best journeys are often the journeys you never even knew you were on, until you suddenly find yourself at a crossroads or dramatically changing course. I believe that to be successful on journeys you have to be successful at opening your mind and letting your opinions change. A stubborn journey will likely be a short one.

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I first encountered Sinbad, the miniature lion in his home at Shamwari Game Reserve. Sinbad was at the Julie Ward Centre; a location that I certainly feel some connection with. His legs were stunted in their growth when his teeth were pulled from his gums to make him a more suitable photographer’s prop at the French zoo he was rescued from. He couldn’t eat properly without them.

DSC_1003But Sinbad the miniature lion grew. Not physically. He was given the opportunity to adapt from a confined cell in a zoo to a lush enclosure in South Africa; the closest to the wild that the small lion can possibly survive in. And he thrives.

You see, it’s easy to appreciate nature when we watch it on the television. We admire it when Sir David Attenborough so beautifully narrates the journeys that creatures great and small, land and sea, make in the wild – but it’s easy to overlook the journeys of animals in captivity.

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 “Animals need zoos to survive. Zoos are a vital tool in getting the next generation interested in nature and they provide the best means of studying animals.”

Zoos and education are presented to us hand-in-hand

Zoos and education are presented to us hand-in-hand

This is a viewpoint I hear often, and one I, myself, had previously subscribed to. Earlier in the year, I penned a post about my opinion of zoos and captivity; to clarify my standpoint to myself, as much as anyone who may find themselves reading my incessant typing! I concluded with an opinion much in-line with the afore mentioned.

But I’ve been on somewhat of a journey since then.

About this time last year, I felt that my blog platform had run its course. There were other matters to focus on, and as my number of views dwindled, I knew whatever audience I was writing for had other matters to focus on too.

But in May, I found myself back on a pathway I thought I’d ventured away from – journeys can have a funny way of doing that, you see.

In Born Free Foundation’s 30th anniversary year, I found an opportunity to reconnect with my reasons and motivations for supporting the charity by attending some of their one-off events: and what wonderful, educational eye-openers they were. I am beyond grateful for the opportunities I have had – thoughtful discussions with lifelong idol Virginia McKenna and long-time role model Pollyanna Pickering, and the long in-depth chats with Born Free President Will Travers about the future of conservation that have gone on to reshape my thinking. To put that simply, I no longer have an internal argument as to whether the educational benefits of zoos justify the isolation and unnatural surroundings of a captive environment: through research, discussions and uncompromised honesty, I now see clearly that they don’t.

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At the same time as reaching these realisations, this year I have found myself a little lost at times while finding my way onto the correct career path.

But after nearly taking the chance on a blogging and marketing internship in Malawi, I opted out after reaching the final three in the process, because another offer reached me: a full time, paid and permanent position at Discovery Education UK.

dcimissionstatementHaving worked for Discovery Education UK before, I knew this was a huge and wonderful opportunity for me, and this time I have a more hands-on role in delivering news to primary school children.

There is something quite wonderful about having a job that helps to educate children by giving them the tools and knowledge to discover their own thoughts and opinions on things happening in the world, and when that includes case studies on stories such as isolated elephant Mali, I know that somehow, I have found my way.

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The Elephant in the Room

To me, the best kind of an education comes from something that moves you. Something that stays with you long after you first discover or encounter it, and leaves you wanting to take action. Sometimes that action may simply be learning more, delving into this newfound knowledge further, to see what other unknowns may be uncovered. And other times, it leaves you wanting to change the world.

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#Elefilm

That’s exactly how I felt when I finished watching student-produced documentary The Elephant in the Room.

Providing a deeply moving look at the plight of elephants kept in solitary zoo conditions (an issue I already have an opinion on), the confronting images of The Elephant in the Room, made in association with Born Free Films, echo the critically acclaimed scenes of Blackfish – and are certainly as harrowing.

Gaining internet popularity under the hash tag: #Elefilm, the 13 and a half min long documentary, narrated by Born Free Founder Virginia McKenna OBE, explores the damaging industry of zoos in the context of what we now know about elephant psychology and behaviour – and the findings highlighted are heart-breakingly deserving of the 13 minutes it takes to watch the film, and the challenging questions that the 20,000 people who have already viewed the short documentary must have been left asking themselves, about what we are doing in the name of tourism and misinterpreted ‘education’.

If education is about truth, as I believe it to be, then The Elephant in the Room is far more of an education than looking through the cold metal bars of a concrete-floored pen, at an animal that displays none of its natural behaviours and instincts. If #Elefilm has left me with anything, it’s the realisation that these kinds of environments will never truly teach us anything about what wildlife is really like.

Belonging to the same herd

Inspired by a Born Free Foundation report entitled, ‘Innocent Prisoner’, the group of nature-loving film makers behind the documentary, traveled from the UK to California in the USA, Romania and Norway to complete filming, drawing upon the knowledge and experiences of experts working within several world-altering charities – albeit if these organisations are altering the world just one animal, and one changed opinion, at a time. Whilst these locations and sources of education are ones I hugely respect, one of the most exciting discoveries about this film, on a personal level, was that it was created as a University of Hertfordshire Film – meaning the team behind it were students of the very university I graduated from last year! How exciting to learn that this highly impassioned and powerful project could come from such close proximity! I caught up with the documentary’s Producer & Assistant Editor Amanda Gardner and Director & Editor Tariq Chow to find out more about the motivation behind the film …

What was your inspiration behind making the film?

Every member of our team has a strong passion for animals – together we had already completed another film called ‘Catastrophe’ which discussed the problems cat shelters are currently facing in the UK. At the start of the pre-production process, we came across an article ‘Innocent Prisoner’ on the Born Free website, which talked about there being over 40 elephants living on their own in captivity across Europe. We decided that we would make this the main topic of our film, as we felt that it was an issue that not many people were currently aware of.

What kinds of processes were involved? Were there any particular highlights for you?  

The main processes involved in making The Elephant in the Room were locating and interviewing specialists and experts in the animal welfare field and travelling abroad to four different locations to capture footage – UK, Romania, Norway and California USA. We also spent a lot of time and detail on writing the narration, editing the clips together and creating the soundtrack and animation. One of the main aims of the film was trying to convey the correct message to the audience in regards to how we can help these elephants living in solitary confinement. One of the main highlights of filming The Elephant in the Room was travelling to America to visit the ARK 2000 Sanctuary, where elephants have been re-homed from zoos and circuses to live out the rest of their lives in peace.

Were there any particular challenges in creating the documentary?

One of the main challenges in making the film was trying to choose the most poignant footage to use in order to convey the correct message to the audience.

How did you manage to get Born Free Foundation on board?

We managed to get the Born Free Foundation on board through a series of processes, including sending over a proposal which discussed the main outline of the film and also talking through our ideas and reasons for creating the documentary. We were extremely fortunate to get the Born Free Foundation on board – we could not have made The Elephant in the Room without their advice and support.

What kind of successes has the film had since completion?

Since its completion, The Elephant in the Room has won the ITV award at the University of Hertfordshire’s Vision’s Festival. It has also received over 12,000 views on Youtube and 5,000 views on Vimeo. We have also held a private screening of our film at the Warner Bros. De Lane Lea sound studios, attended by representatives from the film industry, the national press and the animal welfare industry. Virginia McKenna OBE was also in attendance, alongside her son and President of the Born Free Foundation, Will Travers.

What are your hopes and aims for it here on in?

We hope the message will spread further in regards to the problems of elephants living in solitary confinement. In would be fantastic for my team and I to develop the film into a feature length documentary.

Image courtesy https://www.facebook.com/elefilm

Screening of The Elephant in the Room. Image courtesy:
https://www.facebook.com/elefilm

Marching towards a common goal

I couldn’t finish our chat without asking perhaps the most important question of all, that surely brings together the whole purpose of making the film, the charity work it is highlighting and of course the reason for the existence of this blog itself. What do you hope is the future for elephants? Amanda tells me the hope is that all elephants living in zoos, particularly those living in solitary confinement, can move to a sanctuary where they can live out the rest of their lives in peace, and that no more elephants are taken from the wild in order to live in a zoo or circus.

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Still from the documentary. Image courtesy elefilm.eu

Important info:

The Elephant in the Room is in association with Born Free Films and is narrated by Virginia McKenna OBE. Crew – Amanda Gardner (Producer & Assistant Editor), Tariq Chow (Writer, Director & Editor), Matthew Buckner (Sound, Music & Animation) and Emma Peirson-Hagger (Camera & Lighting). To watch the film and for more information, please visit; www.elefilm.eu

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More than a dot-to-dot painting…

imageAs someone who looks to many places for ideas and inspiration, there’s a video I return to time and time again. The words of the late Steve Jobs, Co-Founder of Apple and Creator of Pixar animations, have always rung true to me:

“It’s impossible to connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking back” – SJ.

I’ve been connecting the dots a lot lately.

Somewhere in 2009, a few months after returning from my Born Free Shamwari adventure, I found my mind and heart brimming with inspiration and motivation – creativity that I struggled to find a use for.

I booked an exhibition slot at my local art gallery, to sell artwork to raise money for the Born Free Foundation. In the midst of creating a ‘Natural World’ portfolio of work, I discovered a wildlife art magazine called Wildscape. I wrote to the editor, asking how I could get hold of a copy, and soon held a yearly subscription.

Wildscape

It was among the beautiful glossy pages of Wildscape that I first registered the work of Pollyanna Pickering: stunning images of tigers, a case study on jaguars and a ’25 years of Born Free Foundation’ double page spread that connected the first of the dots.

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Later that year, I noticed in my annual Born Free members catalogue a range of Christmas Cards with Pollyanna Pickering’s art work printed on them. I’ve since learned that the Pollyanna Pickering Foundation donated £8,000 towards building the Shamwari-based Julie Ward education centre that played a poignant part in my visit.

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“You have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.” – SJ

This month I found myself strolling through the enchanting gardens of Pollyanna’s Derbyshire home. An on-foot safari of wildlife sculptures and beautiful landscaping that left me feeling like a character from Alice Through the Looking Glass.

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I was there for the Born Free Foundation Celebration Day and the opportunity to view her ‘Way of the Wolf’ exhibition held within her gallery home. Pollyanna and her daughter Anna Louise were warm and welcoming, and whilst I don’t wish to give too much away, the exhibition rooms were a treasure trove of talent.

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As her pen danced over my 30th anniversary Calendar, I had to catch myself from a nostalgic day dream of tearing open the brown envelopes that Wildscape arrived in – envelops that promised page after page of breath taking artwork in a magazine I used to long to write for.

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“You have to trust in something: your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever – because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off of the well-worth path, as that will make all the difference.” – SJ

I assume intentionally, Mr Jobs’ speech encompassed the words of my favourite poem and life mantra: Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken reads:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth; 

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same, 

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back. 

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference. 

I know that I have opted for the road less travelled many times in my life and as way leads on to way, I find myself somehow staying on the path that I’ve always wanted to take. Never more so than sitting outside the Way of the Wolf exhibition hall, on a low garden wall, next to Born Free CEO and Co-Founder Will Travers, and quizzing him on the changes he’s witnessed over Born Free Foundation’s 30 years.

“When we started, I wouldn’t have believed it if you’d told me at this point now there would be no more elephants at London Zoo, no more elephants used in UK circuses, no more live animals used at Disneyland – I just wouldn’t have believed it,” he tells me.

As we chewed over everything from the Irwin legacy to Sea World (- look out for a blog post on this soon), I listened as Mr Travers told me that so-called ‘Millennials’ (those, like me, that reached young adulthood around the turn of the millennium) were the driving force behind protests against water circuses, such as Sea World. Ten per cent more 18-25 year olds have petitioned against Sea World’s practices than their ‘baby-boomer’ counterparts, I’m informed.

“The trouble is always that we have to work and plan to time frames – and those aren’t necessarily short term,” Will tells me.

“We have to think in 4 year strategies, as that’s how often the government changes. We have to think of young audiences in terms of the years that they’re at university – or school years. In reality it takes 30 years to really start to make a difference.”

viewing Pollyanna Pickering's exhibition

Before we’re interrupted and Will gets whisked away – as his mother Virginia McKenna has sold and signed all the gallery’s copies of her autobiography already and the orders are still rolling in – he leaves me with the thought that the next 30 years of Born Free will be filled with hard work, strategy but ultimately triumph if, the two former are gotten right.

“Yes, we have to make the dots connect, but first we have to be able to look ahead and locate where those dots are before we can even start to join them together.” 

 

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“Tonight they roar ‘don’t forget us’!”

A welcome with open arms…

Those millions of YouTube viewers who have watched Christian the lion’s reunion with John Rendall and Anthony (Ace) Bourke will recognise the hesitant stroll that holds Christian back for a second, as if drinking in the presence of his old friends, before the magnetised yearning to rekindle with a familiar past becomes too much to suppress, and snaps him from his slow motion progress towards the pair into a full-on run – climaxing in an open-pawed embrace, re-welcoming them into his life.

 

Whilst I have never previously attended Pride in the Park during its 13 year existence, there was a definite sense of returning to familiarity when I found myself set amongst the Born Free logos and 30th Anniversary brandings.

I hesitated myself slightly, to take a deep breath before entering the room where Zulu dancers added vibrant life to the ornate collection of African carvings, prints and memorabilia that decorated each table.

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The most prominent atmosphere created at this event however, was one of warmth and appreciation. I felt as wanted and welcomed as John Rendall must have felt when Christian came charging towards him in that beautiful video.

A particularly strange analogy when I came face-to-face with Mr. Rendall himself during the course of the evening.

IMG_4600In awe of the company I dined with, and the generosity of the room; the elegance of the attire and hard work that brings together such occasions, I tucked into my meal with all the thoughts and sensations that one feels when welcomed into exciting new surrounds.

The particular unique setting of overlooking the Derby Pride Park Stadium was not lost on me as I chatted to new faces around the table and sat back to enjoy the excitement of the auction, which helped to raise £21,000 on this fantastic evening.

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A leopard never changes its spots…

I mentioned in my previous blog post that I’d donated an original art work to the raffle at the Pride in the Park event – and was delighted to watch this prize awarded to the winning raffle ticket holder.

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While the venue, location and event organisers (Val and Mike) may have been new to me, there are certain things that echo from Born Free event to Born Free event – and one such thing is the kindness of Born Free Founder and CEO Will Travers, who invited my guest and I to join his table during the raffle and ensured we had the opportunity to speak with his mother, Virginia McKenna OBE before the night was over. Her kind words and friendly eyes reassured me that a little belief and a lot of passion can spread a long way.IMG_4624

The enthusiasm, meeting of minds and sheer enjoyment of the guests in attendance is a constant that I’ve seen across the Born Free events that I’ve attended. Organisers Val and Mike did a great job of enthusing the passion and empathy that I’ve come to associate with animal welfare campaigners into an eclectic evening of dinner, dance and donations.

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***

For the love of lions…

Born Free began with a lion.

The famous story of George and Joy Adamson’s relationship with Elsa the lioness has been epitomised by the Born Free Foundation logo, which stared out from the thoughtfully constructed decor of the Pride in the Park hall.

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Although the room was littered with images of lions, including the beautiful hand-carved statues that stood proudly on every table – there are two lions in particular whose plight Pride in the Park was highlighting.

Had I followed through with my previous application for a marketing internship at Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, I might have gotten to meet the two lions in question (I made it to the last 4 in the process before having to pull out for financial reasons).

Simba and Bella; victims of the zoo industry, have joined the sanctuary in a move which ends years of loneliness, solitude and unnatural behaviours for the pair. If all goes well, they will be introduced without the restrictions of a fence.

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In a story that demonstrates perfectly the close knit community and everyday heroism of Born Free Foundation supporters and campaigners – television auctioneer James Lewis delighted, amused and moved the crowd with his story of the significant part he played in moving Bella from her torturous life in Romania while his daughter was being born. Naturally, when Arabella grows up to tell the story of where her name came from, I hope she will be greeted with the affectionate reaction that filled the room as James spoke.

“Tonight they roar: ‘don’t forget us’…”

Of course this wonderful evening had a purpose and a very important message.

Amongst the chatter, the laughter, the dancing and the camaraderie, there had to come a sobering voice to remind us of the reality of what has brought this room full of people together.

A poignant speech from Born Free President Will Travers tragically had to include the words: “We have lost over half Africa’s lions in last 30 years.”

I’ll leave you to think that over for a second.

***

When an experience truly moves you, when it speaks to your soul and fully penetrates your thoughts, ideas and challenges your memories and beliefs, it never leaves you.

Many times I’ve found my head nostalgically returning to those busy days spent soaking up life at Shamwari Game Reserve – none more so than seeing Shamwari’s Born Free Animal Care Manager Glen Vena for the first time in 6 years.

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I understand entirely Glen’s passion as he spoke fondly of the animals he encounters everyday at the reserve.
When he tearfully recalled the heart ache of losing a lioness. When he described how all the Born Free big cats filled the dusk air with a chorus of roars as he buried a beast who had suffered so much in earlier years but was liberated to a life of comfort in land they truly belonged.
When he described the feeling of driving to work in a Born Free Land Rover and identifying each vocalisation according to which big cat is making it.
When he told the room: “tonight they roar: don’t forget us…”

We won’t.

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Preparations, Paintings & Pride in the Park

Something very exciting is happening this weekend. Two very exciting things actually…

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If you can’t see from this hurriedly taken photo of my Pride in the Park tickets, I’m headed to Derby for a fantastic and glamorous evening of entertainment and auction as part of Born Free Foundation’s 30th anniversary celebrations.

I even dusted off my coloured pencils and did my first piece of art work in two years for the occasion! As a prize donation to the raffle, I created this image of a leopard, based on a photo I took of Born Free’s Kuma when I was out in Shamwari – obviously I have a bit of artistic license, and I draw free hand rather than tracing or ‘squaring-up’, I’m not claiming this leaopard drawing actually looks like Kuma – or is supposed to be him, it was just a great resource for the drawing.

The second exciting part of my weekend – on the theme of art – will be a trip to the opening of Pollyanna Pickering’s exhibition as part of the Born Free Foundation Celebration Day on Sunday.

Pollyanna

I’ve been a fan of Pollyanna’s work since the days I used to subscribe to a beautiful magazine called Wildscape, specifically exploring and celebrating wildlife art.

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It’s going to be an awesome 24 hours – can’t wait to tell you all about it on the other side!

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I suppose it all starts with zoos…

Bright green eyes stare out from a neatly tangled criss-cross of metal. Green metal. Green like grass, leaves, trees.

The view is skewed from those eyes. A picnic bench, a wooden sign with a map printed on it, two adults with a child and a push chair.

Once fierce , those eyes are now shrouded in dull frustration — just a flicker of wild in them — a flicker when a lump of meat thuds on the floor at a scheduled hour; or maybe when some small, unfortunate finch squeezes between the criss-cross of green metal.

sad leopard behind fenceI suppose it all starts with zoos.

A zoo where the lions used in the filming of the Born Free film were sent to spend the rest of their days. A zoo where a leopard called Kuma lived in squalid conditions. A zoo where a gentle giant, mentally disturbed from loneliness and isolation (in war zones, we’d call this torture tactic ‘solitary confinement’), reaches out his trunk in affection to touch a face he recognises after 13 years.

Pole-Pole-at-London-Zoo-with-Virginia-and-Bill-c-Daily-Mail-650x500To me, visiting zoos with my family as a child are some of my fondest memories.

Zoos taught me about how incredibly diverse the natural kingdom is; that there is a huge world out there filled with magnificent and exotic creatures and, perhaps ironically, that they should be protected and respected.

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It was perhaps a hard pill to swallow then when I became a supporter of the Born Free Foundation and discovered that the animals they were rescuing were not just privately owned trophy pets, kept in rooftop cages at some European tourist spot I’d probably never come near to encountering – they were coming from places that I associated with animal conservation, education and the ‘safe havens’ that allowed me the chance to encounter these animals up close, in the living flesh. They were coming from zoos.

It’s hard for me to align myself with the position that every zoo is a torturous hell hole that no good can come from. But I certainly feel that way about a few. A disposition that’s only been strengthened by my time at Shamwari Game Reserve.

I have seen and known zoos to be involved in some fantastic conservation efforts: breeding animals and re-introducing the offspring to the wild. And I’ve watched for year’s the fundraising efforts of one of my local zoos – Africa Alive – in its plight to support the Botswana Cheetah Conservation Project.

HowToHelpIf an animal is saved from extinction by the work of zoos, then that is of course a success only to be heralded. But if that species exists only in captivity as a result, then has it been saved at all?

It’s confusing journey to be on; to love animals, to want to be around them to appreciate their beauty and power, to oppose denying them the opportunity to live wild and free. Because being around them often contradicts the scenes of freedom at Shamwari that are etched in my memory.

A scene from Shamwari Game ReserveIroncially, David Attenborough, face of nature to many, began his television days capturing animals to be put into captivity.

BBC series, Zoo Quest, aired between 1954 and 1963. The premise of this programme was to ‘collect’ animals from tropical locations to be introduced to London Zoo. An accepted practise at the time, the show now depicts everything that conservationists; including Sir David Attenborough himself, stand against.

David-Attenborough-Zoo-QuestIt was shortly after this series aired; 1969 that London Zoo would play another significant part in changing the attitudes of conservation…

After making the iconic Born Free film in 1966, husband and wife stars Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers filmed a documentary about an orphaned wild elephant called Pole Pole. Pole Pole was a gift to London Zoo – a ‘transaction’ that Virginia and Bill did their best to prevent.

Fourteen years later, an exhausted, disorientated and chronically lonely Pole Pole collapsed in London Zoo and was destroyed.

6ca9ca3c43But not before a visit from Bill and Virginia made a profound impact.

During her time at the zoo, Pole Pole’s behaviour was unlike that of a wild elephant: in her distressed state she swayed and paced and acted erratically.

Despite being driven mad by her barren concrete enclosure, Pole Pole broke hearts with her affection towards Virginia and Bill when, thirteen years after they filmed her in Kenya, she recognised the pair and in a tragic, tender, desperate moment; gently reached out to touch Bill’s palm with her trunk. Her death one year later devastated the couple.

This profound moment became the start of something that would bring hope to animals living in these such conditions. The Born Free actors, together with their son Will Travers, launched Zoo Check – an initiative that would later be named the Born Free Foundation – in 1984.

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Zoo Check would monitor the conditions of animals kept in captivity and intervene when an animal was found neglected and distressed.

Like both Virginia McKenna OBE and Sir David Attenborough, whose early careers and passion for conservation stemmed from zoos in some way; another of my wildlife heroes: Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin also entangled his passion for conservation with his Australia Zoo – a thought I’ve already chewed over on this blog.

575324_109748772523009_1980832430_nWith my conservation ‘teachers’, if you will, mixing rehabilitation and breeding programmes of zoos into their plight to conserve wild species, is it possible to advocate the irradiation of zoos? I expect not.

As photos emerged in March of young giraffe Marius being butchered in front of crowds of zoo visitors (including an audience of children) at Copenhagen Zoo, there was national outrage. Marius had been offered a place at a Yorkshire Zoo, but had met his end on a cold pavement slab, his limbs removed in front of a crowd of tourists and the juicy bits fed to the lions.

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While the world of social media went up in arms over little Marius (sadly with – seemingly – all the effectiveness of a storm in a tea cup), I couldn’t help but feel even more disheartened that a pride of lions at Longleat Safari Park were destroyed in the same month and hardly anybody seemed to turn a hair in comparison. And what of the escaped wolves of Colchester Zoo that had to be shot outright for fear of them causing harm?

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These things are rarely black and white.

They are spotted, patterned, feathered or fury – they are individual animals with individual personalities and individual needs that must be looked at as individual cases.

There are flaws; there are positive and negatives of zoos. There is a need to think and understand and critically evaluate the places that house wild animals; to look at the conditions they are kept in and the work that is going on behind the scenes to educate, to rehabilitate, to give something back to nature and ensure that not a single animal is overlooked in the process.

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And that’s it – that’s the point of the Born Free Foundation.

I don’t need to declare hate for absolutely everything that zoos stand for, or live hypocritically on this pendulum of allegiance vs angst – we just need to ensure that there will always be a body like the Born Free Foundation’s Zoo Check that will hold anyone keeping animals captive to account, and have the ability to intervene when individual animals so desperately need a voice.

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A new Born Free adventure

Wow! What a month! Where do I even start to unravel my latest goings on? Life is certainly a funny game, filled with unexpected twists and turns; sunrises creeping up over horizons you hadn’t even noticed existed behind the entangled thickets of everyday life.

This last month has certainly been one of those such scenarios. Busy throwing myself into my many projects; my 9-5(ish) of writing for magazines, blogging for Livelikeavip.com, the odd music review, the odd careers-related post and even keeping an eye on the St Albans Film Festival — which is very close to my heart — it can be a little hard to keep up with myself sometimes.

But following a fantastic night in London celebrating Born Free Foundation’s 30th Anniversary ‘Wild Night at the Movies‘ event, I have been overwhelmed by the response my review post on the evening received –  including from the likes of journalist Kate Silverton (who chaired the interview with Born Free Founder Virginia McKenna on the night) and Will Travers OBE; CEO of the Born Free Foundation. photo(9)But who knew that Tweeting my blog post out to the masses would result in an incredibly inspiring and motivational meeting in a private member’s club off of The Strand, London, where I would find myself talking through my lifelong journey of supporting the Born Free charity: how it’s influenced my greatest adventures (my gap year spent volunteering in South Africa), my creative talents (my only art exhibition was themed on Africa Wildlife), my travel activities (I spent time in Australia volunteering for Conservation Volunteers Australia) and my career ambitions (my first job out of university was working for Discovery Communications), with Will Travers himself?!

With fantastic support and encouragement, the result of our meeting was that I will revive my Kate on Conservation blog, with the full support of the Born Free Foundation — receiving direct information and (hopefully) a few exclusives, to bring my lovely readers my genuine thoughts and perspectives on conservation issues across the globe from a compassionate supporter’s perspective. I can’t tell you how excited I am!

In the meantime, I’ve been pretty reflective on my relationship with the charity thus far… here’s a little look back on the journey I’ve had to reach this point of blogging with Born Free Foundation:

DSC_0098 Growing up, the stories of Joy and George Adamson’s life with animals captivated me!

DSC_0001So many inspiring thoughts and words on the pages of these beautiful books.

DSC_0127I’ve been a Born Free ‘adoptive parent’ for many years. Beginning with lions Raffi & Anthea in 1996.

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Using the Born Free Foundation as the basis for my end of primary school project; 2001.

DSC_0130I began fundraising for the charity in my early teens, beginning with collecting used stamps and loose change, selling raffle tickets, etc. Before applying for ‘Get More Involved’ packs.

DSC_0131I remember holding a tap top/bake sale of goods from my front lawn when I was about 14. On refection, it may have been a little more effective if I didn’t live in the bottom of a cul-de-sac…

DSC_0132(Above and below): Some of my early fundraising initiatives. Designing my own (rather crude-looking now) Born Free stationary and calendar.

imageA little look inside my homemade calendar…

DSC_0139Following Born Free updates over the years (some of my hoard, which runs from 2002 – 2014!)image2008, aged 18, I made the life-changing decision to volunteer at Shamwari Game Reserve, home of the Born Free Big Cat Sanctuaries.

DSC_0141The letters I received at the beginning and end of my volunteering trip.DSC_0128Celebrating Born Free’s milestones over the years – 21st anniversary, 25th, and this year’s 30th year of the foundation!

DSC_0142The latest collection of literature I’ve been given in the last month – a bit of background reading for my blog posts to come!!

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1

A Wild Night at the Movies

We’re running late. The Piccadilly traffic stands still, a glistening of red rubies not unlike something I’d seen in a jewellery store window. Bathed in the cool white glow of the famous Piccadilly Circus screens, this would normally be one of my favourite city scenes. But not tonight, not when we’re running late.

“It’s 30 years since Born Free Foundation began.
25 years since the wise, gentle George Adamson was murdered.
20 years since our inspiration in all that Born Free does, my beloved father Bill Travers passed away…”

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Tugging at the doors of BAFTA, 195 Piccadilly, they moved just a couple of millimetres before falling back on the themselves forcefully. It’s locked?
“How do we get in?”
“No idea. It is here, isn’t it?”
I find two buttons, one is for automatic wheelchair access, one for calling reception. I press both, instantaneously. One has to work.

“But 30 years for wildlife, and here we are, all together. The Born Free generation”. We applaud loudly and I’m grinning like a baffoon as Will Travers OBE descends the stage and returns to his seat beside his mother; Virginia McKenna OBE. I’ve seen him in countless newsletters and leaflets but he’s taller than I’d imagined. More studious looking. “The Born Free generation” I repeat in my mind. I agree. I’m 23 and this film and it’s namesake charity have always been a part of my growing up. In my life like a family member. Adoption packs, letters, bags for old ink cartridges, a pile of used stamps I’ve been meaning to send. A bookcase with a shelf filled with various editions of stories from and about the Adamsons; the films – DVDs next to VHS’ that I refuse to part with. A stuffed toy of Aslan sits next to a framed photograph in which I’m laughing with my Shamwari volunteer workmates as we sat across the wooden benches of the Julie Ward Education centre. A black and white poster of Joy sitting over Elsa as she’s rolling on her back, more like a dog than a lioness. Five seconds in my room and it’s undeniable. I’m one of the Born Free generation.

The door swings open slowly but at just the right speed to drink each feature in at a rate I can process. A screen above an elevator has the comfortingly familiar Born Free Foundation logo (phew. We are in the right place). A golden face, the symbol of BAFTA stares out from the first half of a staircase, and there at the foot of the stairs a small white plague, humbly announcing the 30th Anniversary ‘Wild Night at the Movies’. I check the time of my phone – 7.31. We’re not doing too badly.

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I hear the soft crunching of popcorn as a commotion breaks out on screen. The editing is a little more jumpy than I remember, and the speed of the frames as a man-eating lion runs into the gun fire of Bill Travers’ portrayal of George is faster than I expected. But it’s perfect. Charming, dramatic, nostalgic.

At the top of the staircase, passed the reception, we walk into the David Lean room. Large banners and merchandise stalls greet us. I can breathe again now. I smile as we’re handed a glass of Wild Thing wine and drink in the room as well as the sweetness of the wine. There are familiar faces all around — one of Born Free Foundation’s most passionate campaigners; Helen Worth (Coronation Street’s Gail Platt), soap nasty John Altman (Eastenders’ Nick Cotton) to name drop just a couple. “If you’d like to make your way into the auditorium…” a voice calls out. Will Travers steps aside with a smile and a “after you”, before I’ve even realised who I’ve slid past. At least I was gracious enough to allow whoever was about to step out of the elevator to enter the auditorium before me. It turned out to be Leslie Phillips CBE and his beautiful wife. Is this night for real?

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George Adamson: I don’t know what goes on in that head of yours anymore… What’s wrong with a zoo, anyway?

Joy Adamson: Nothing. Except that she won’t be free.

George Adamson: and Is freedom so important?

Joy Adamson: Yes, yes, she was born free and she has the right to live free. Why don’t we live in a more comfortable setting George? Other people do. We chose to live out here cause it represents freedom for us. Because we can breathe.

***

With all the grace and elegance I’ve come to associate with her on-screen presence, Virginia spent the next hour talking us through her life and career before and beyond the Born Free film (with a little help from Mr Phillips): expertly guided through the questions of a blossoming Kate Silverton (who vows that when she goes into labour she will have the film’s theme song on her ‘birthing playlist’, just like she did with her first child!). I was staggered to learn that this is only the second time that Virginia has watched the film, and that the song nearly didn’t make it into the final cut as the producers ‘weren’t convinced’ at first.

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As the iconic first line of John Barry’s “Born free, as free as the wind blows…” fills the auditorium I try to swallow the lump in my throat. It’s been building up since Bill Travers delivered the line: “You must be very proud”. Given the circumstances, it’s so poignant. I think everyone in the room feels both proud and inspired by Virginia Mckenna and I think to myself how proud Bill would have been of all that Virginia and Will have achieved through Born Free in the two decades since his passing. “I’m proud of her” the character of Joy Adamson responds.

All too soon — to the roaring sound of a passionate and heart-felt standing ovation for Virginia — my dream evening was coming to a close. But I had a lot of long-lasting thoughts to take home with me. What next? What will happen over the next 30 years? Will the animals still be free?

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“I believe in the ‘drip, drip, drip effect’,” was Virginia’s parting thought that concluded the interview: the response that led to the entire audience rising to their feet to applaud – “that if we keep doing the little things that we can, they’ll lead to a big impact. We must never lose hope. We will win.”

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Want to know more about Born Free Foundation?

Want to know more about the Born Free Rescue Centre at Shamwari?

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