Twenty five life-size bronze lions have been exhibited in Edinburgh to raise awareness of the plight of the animal’s population numbers in the wild.
Each of the feline sculptures represents the story of a real-life lion, from Christian, the cub purchased from Harrods department store in London and successfully returned to the wild in Kenya, to Cora, saved from appalling conditions in a Spanish zoo and now living at a sanctuary in South Africa.
The majority of them can be found in the Meadows, but three members of the pride will be on display in St Andrew Square garden to give visitors at the centre of the city a chance to observe them.
The artists behind the free exhibition, entitled Born Free Forever, are internationally-recognised British and Australian Gillie and Marc Schattner.
The pair are known for their animal, human-animal hybrid and abstract sculptures, which have been exhibited as public works of art around the world.
They said: “The bronze cubs symbolise the future generations of lions that can be created with hard work, dedication and a lot of love.
“The lion is a big part of our national identity and personifies the qualities of what it is to be British; strength, courage and pride.
“If wild lions were to become extinct, we would lose part of ourselves. The instillation was organised by wildlife charity Born Free, which campaigns “to keep wildlife in the wild.”
Its centrepiece is the lioness Elsa on top of a 4×4 vehicle, an image inspired by the much-loved 1966 film Born Free, which starred the charity’s co-founders Virginia McKenna and her late husband Bill Travers.
It told the story of an orphaned lioness being raised to adulthood and released into the wilderness of Kenya. When the film was made, there were around 200,000 lions in the wild across Africa.
Now, the charity claims there are only 20,000 remaining, a devastating decline which, if not halted, could see them becoming extinct across much of their wild range within 30 years.
Other members of the bronze pride include Louga, one of Born Free’s Lions Of Lockdown, rescued from a circus in France and rehomed at Born Free’s sanctuary in Shamwari Private Reserve, South Africa, earlier this year, and Cecil, the lion whose killing by an American trophy hunter in Zimbabwe in 2015 sparked international outrage.
The exhibition comes at an important time for the charity as Mr Travers, who co-wrote the screenplay for Gavin Maxwell’s Ring Of Bright Water, a story about a man and an otter exploring the Scottish countryside, also starring Ms McKenna, would have turned 100 this year if it was not for his death in 1994.
A Forever Lions Fund, set up in his memory, will use money raised by the display and other donations to help protect wild lions, resolve human-predator conflict, care for rescued lions, and stop the slaughter of lions for trophies and as part of ‘canned’ lion hunting (the killing of lions in captive facilities).
Each of the statues are available to buy, with all the funds supporting the charity.
Ms McKenna said: “I am overjoyed to be bringing our beautiful lion exhibition, Born Free Forever, to Scotland, a country which has a special place in my heart as it was where, in 1969, my late husband Bill and I worked together on bringing Gavin Maxwell’s magical story, Ring Of Bright Water to the big screen.
“I have been back many times, most recently in the summer of 2021. Tragically, since that time, wild lion numbers have declined catastrophically – and Born Free is determined to do something about it.
“That is why I urge everyone who can to please visit this incredible exhibition and discover why this magnificent pride of lions means so much to Born Free. Each one has its own unique and powerful true story."
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Adding: “Through those individual stories, visitors will learn about the plight of lions in captivity, the challenges they face in the wild – where they belong – and what we can all do to help.
“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.”
The exhibition will be on show in the Scottish capital for three months.