Born Free Declares 2016 “The Year of the Lion”

04 January 2016 | Born Free USA News Release

Washington, D.C./Horsham, West Sussex — On the 50th anniversary of the iconic, award-winning motion picture Born Free, Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA have declared 2016 The Year of the Lion. The initiative was announced today by Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA and Born Free Foundation, as well as by co-founders of both organizations, Virginia McKenna OBE and Will Travers OBE, President.

Elsa the lioness captured the hearts and minds of a worldwide audience in the 1966 classic film Born Free—but, today, the international wildlife charity that bears its name sounds the alarm over the future of lions. The film starred legendary actress Virginia McKenna and her late husband, Bill Travers, portraying the pioneering conservationists George and Joy Adamson and their successful rehabilitation of Elsa to the wild.

According to Roberts, “Born Free’s Year of the Lion campaign is reflective of the film’s anniversary that started it all, as well as the fact that, today, the fight for the survival of lions in the wild has never been more urgent. Experts believe their numbers have plummeted to fewer than 20,000 across Africa as their habitat dwindles and becomes more fragmented; as horrific retaliatory killings are perpetrated; and as hundreds of lions are slaughtered each year by trophy hunters in the name of ‘sport.’ It is imperative that their plight is immediately taken seriously. The species’ decline has been rapid and steep. Without concerted action at all levels of government globally, the species could disappear from significant parts of Africa during our lifetime.”

Lions across West, Central, and East Africa have declined by 60% or more over the past 20 years, and in West Africa, they have been declared Critically Endangered. More than a dozen African countries are already thought to have lost their lion populations, and the international demand for lion bones and body parts is further exacerbating this downward spiral. From 2003 to 2012, more than 24,000 lion specimens were declared to have been exported from 102 countries, including 19 lion range states—countries where lions still roam naturally in the wild.

Across the globe, the public is more aware than ever about the need to save lions before it is too late. The slaying of Cecil the lion made headlines worldwide in 2015, and the recent documentary Blood Lions revealed the horrors of professional and canned hunting to audiences in more than 100 countries. Many airlines have stopped shipping lion trophies; France and Australia have banned the import of lion parts; and field conservation projects are underway across Africa to save this beleaguered species.

McKenna said, “There was a time, 50 years ago, when wild lion numbers were in excess of 100,000. Though aware of the challenges lions faced, even then, I could never have foreseen the devastation that was about to befall this iconic species. Filming Born Free was a life-changing experience. It taught us to understand and respect lions and their nature. We could never have imagined the impact the film would have—not only on our family but also on the many millions who watched it. It is unimaginable to contemplate the possible extinction of these extraordinary animals and we must do whatever is in our power to stop their further decline.”

In 2016, the spotlight will be on lions at the meeting of The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), convening in Johannesburg, South Africa in September. More than 180 countries from around the world will debate, and possibly decide, the future level of protection afforded to lions. Born Free is calling for an end to commercial trade and an up-listing of African lions to CITES Appendix I (highest priority).

During Born Free’s Year of the Lion, the organization will also participate in a major scientific lion census in the heritage site of Meru, Kenya — the heartland of George and Joy Adamson and Born Free—to establish how many lions remain in the area. Steeped in the history of wild lions and their conservation, Meru is still home to the descendants of Girl, Boy, and Ugas: three of the lions featured in the Born Free movie.

According to Travers, “It is hoped that with Year of the Lion and the poignant anniversary of the much-loved film, people will again look at what is happening to this most majestic and iconic of wild animals. Lions are in our DNA. It is still within our grasp to reverse this devastating trend, but only if we wake up now and take action.”

There will be special screenings, events, news, and information online throughout 2016 to mark the 50thanniversary of the film.

President Barack Obama said, “I think I may have teared up at the end (Born Free) when they release Elsa. I couldn’t have been more than four or five.”

For further information on Year of the Lion, visit www.bornfree.org.uk/yearofthelion and www.bornfreeusa.org/yearofthelion.

Born Free USA is a global leader in animal welfare and wildlife conservation. Through litigation, legislation, and public education, Born Free USA leads vital campaigns against animals in entertainment, exotic “pets,” trapping and fur, and the destructive international wildlife trade. Born Free USA brings to North America the message of “compassionate conservation”—the vision of the United Kingdom-based Born Free Foundation, established in 1984 by Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, stars of the iconic film Born Free, along with their son, Will Travers. Born Free’s mission is to end suffering of wild animals in captivity, conserve threatened and endangered species, and encourage compassionate conservation globally. More at www.bornfreeusa.org; www.twitter.com/bornfreeusa; and www.facebook.com/bornfreeusa.

Media Contact: Rodi Rosensweig, 203/270-8929, TheRodiCompany@gmail.com


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