Lion statues Edinburgh: Pride of 24 lions arrive in The Meadows as part of Born Free Forever

A pride of 24 bronze lion sculptures emerged on the Meadows and St Andrew Square this morning as part of a wildlife charity’s touring art exhibition that aims to raise awareness and much needed funds for wildlife conservation.

The unique art instillation, launched by The Born Free Foundation earlier in the year, features sculptures of real life lions.

It will stay in the capital for three months, offering visitors the chance to learn about the plight of wild and captive lions around the world, with some studies indicating that the numbers of wild lions have declined by 90 per cent since 1960.

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Entitled Born Free Forever, the free outdoor event, is the largest of its kind in the UK and is part of the charity’s “year of the lion” made in memory of the charity’s late co-founder, Bill Travers who would have turned 100 this year if not for his sudden death in 1994.

The Born Free Forever exhibition can be seen at the meadows and St Andrew Square until January.

Morning commuters and dog walkers could be seen gazing in amazement this morning as the majestic pride of sculptures was unveiled near middle meadow walk.

Primary five pupils from nearby George Heriot’s School also came along to join local wildlife artist, Jane Lee McCracken, to take part in an art workshop where they learned about the lions and each took the challenge to draw one of the sculptures.

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An Edinburgh-born artist, Ms McCracken said the workshop will not only educate the children about lions but also about the grave threats they face.

Speaking at the launch of the event she said: “By drawing the sculptures they are going to make emotional connections with wild lions and also realise that their drawings can also really help raise awareness of how precious lions are to all of us and the pressing need to protect now for future generations.”

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One sculpture is dedicated to Born Free co-founders Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers who launched the wildlife charity with their eldest son, Will Travers in 1984.

The exhibit’s centrepiece is the famous lioness Elsa, who sits on top of a 4x4 as depicted in the 1966 film Born Free, which starred charity co-founders Virginia McKenna OBE and her late husband Bill Travers MBE.

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Also among the sculptures is King – a four-year-old lion who had a very difficult start to life. At just a few months old, King, a victim of the illegal wildlife trade, was rescued by the French animal rescue services where he was found in appalling conditions in an abandoned Parisian flat.

After being moved to a rescue centre in Belgium where he was nurtured back to health, the Born Free Foundation then worked tirelessly to secure his forever home in South Africa just a few months later.

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Cecil can also be found within the pride. This lion made global headlines in 2015 after he was senselessly killed by an American trophy hunter in Zimbabwe.

Elsa was a lioness from Kenya who was raised by George and Joy Adamson after they orphaned her following the death of her mother. They later released her into the wild and her story became the subject of the 1960 book, Born Free, and later the famous 1966 film with the same name.
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Cecil’s presence in the exhibition is a reminder of the barbaric nature of trophy hunting tradition that sadly continues to this day.

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Spokesperson for Born Free, Amanda Poole-Connor said: “2022 is Born Free’s year of the lion. A year of celebrating the lions but also highlighting the issues that lions are facing both in the wild and in captivity.

“Each lion is a real lion and has a real story that highlights those issues, whether it’s about trophy hunting, human-wildlife conflict, captivity, zoos, circuses – there’s so many issues that lions face and that’s what we’re trying to highlight to the public here in Edinburgh today.”

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Over 50 primary five pupils from George Heriot's School were invited to the launch of the exhibition where they learned about lions and took part in an art workshop led by Edinburgh-born artist, Jane Lee McCracken.

She added: “When Born Free the film was made in 1966 there were 200,000 lions in the world – and now it’s estimated that it’s just 20,000. Born Free continues to do everything it can to protect those wild lions and also fight for their welfare in captivity.”

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Founded in 1984 by Virginia McKenna, Bill Travers, and their son eldest son, Will Travers OBE, the foundation now works in over 20 countries across the world, carrying out a wide range of projects to conserve the future of lions and their welfare.

A Forever Lions Fund set up in Bill’s memory will use money raised by the exhibition and other donations to serve a range of causes including caring for rescued lions and work to prevent trophy hunting.

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Speaking ahead of the event, co-founder, Virginia McKenna said: “I’m so thrilled that Edinburgh is hosting this stunning exhibition and I hope people of all ages will come to share the experience and become part of our Born Free Family.”

Will Travers, Executive President & Co-Founder of Born Free, said: “I encourage everyone to visit Born Free Forever in Edinburgh, not only to marvel at the exhibition and learn more about these emblematic and majestic creatures, but to help us raise funds and campaign so that there is a forever for lions.”

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In addition to each sculpture being available to buy, visitors can also donate to the foundation by scanning the QR code on the sculptures where there can also learn more about each individual lion.

Two George Heriot's School pupils had a great day out at the wildlife charity exhibition.
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The exhibition will be available to see at the Meadows and St Andrew Square until early January.

For more information on the event and to find out ways you can support the Born Free Foundation visit their website at www.bornfree.org.uk