Kenya’s biggest wildlife public art exhibition has been officially unveiled in the presence of the Hon. Dr. Noah M. Wekesa, Minister for Forestry and Wildlife, Mr Julius Kipng’etich, Director Kenya Wildlife Service, Mr Will Travers, CEO of the Born Free Foundation, Mr Charlie Langhorne from Wild in Art and Dr. Githinji Gitahi of Nation Media Group.
Pride of Kenya is set to be the ultimate urban safari. 50 life-size decorated male lion sculptures will soon be ‘prowling’ around Nairobi! This massive, free, public art display will turn the city wild and encourage citizens and visitors to Nairobi to support the protection of Kenya’s magnificent wild lions!
Co-ordinated by international wildlife charity, the Born Free Foundation, in consultation with Wild in Art (who have created similar major events around the world) it is no coincidence the lion was chosen as the feature for this event. The Born Free Foundation and the lion are inextricably linked. Inspired by Elsa the lioness from the classic Kenyan movie Born Free, Virginia McKenna and the late Bill Travers, who also starred in the film, founded the Born Free Foundation. Today Born Free continues to champion the protection of wild animals around the world.
However, despite being an iconic symbol of Africa’s wildlife, wild lions are under threat.
Will Travers, CEO of Born Free Foundation explains: “In the last thirty years, lion populations in Africa may have fallen by as much as 75% and today it is thought that as few as 25,000 animals remain. The alarm bells are ringing for wild lions. None of us want this species to go the way of the tiger. We’ve got to stop the current serious problems becoming a conservation crisis - Africa without lions is simply unimaginable.”
Kenya is one of the last remaining lion strongholds but KWS reports that illegal killings and other factors have contributed to a fall in numbers with as few as 2,000 lions remaining across the country.
Mr Julius Kipng’etich, Director Kenya Wildlife Service states: “The Kenya Wildlife Service recognises the important role that lions play within our wild ecosystems and that the lion is a global symbol of all that is wild and free. It is also the national symbol for Kenya, we are the true home of the safari and the big five in the wild. I hope that this exciting Pride of Kenya initiative will attract the attention and support of Kenyans and people around the world and that, with the help of Born Free, we can raise funds to help make sure there is a long-term future for lions in our country.”
Winnie Kiiru, Born Free’s wildlife consultant who conducted the launch at the Serena Hotel, Nairobi, reports: “Shrinking habitats for lions have resulted in them coming into increasing contact and conflict with humans, sometimes with terrible results. However, new innovative techniques have been developed to protect humans, their livestock and the lions. Some of the funds raised from Pride of Kenya will contribute to the implementation of these conflict mitigation methods.”
The lion sculpture was designed by Wild in Art’s Creative Director Chris Wilkinson, assisted by acclaimed Kenyan artist Gakunju Kaigwa, who is currently constructing fifty replicas of the full size (1.3m tall, 35 kg) version in his Nairobi studio at Kuona Trust.
Local and international artists are now being invited to submit proposals for decorating these lion ‘canvasses’. Businesses are being invited to sponsor a lion and the artist will be commissioned to decorate it before the finished works of art are put on display throughout the City in September 2009.
Several companies based in Nairobi, including the Nation Media Group, Kenya Data Networks, Serena Hotels and Bidco Oil Refineries, have already signed up to fund the sponsorship of several lions. The artists are standing by to meet the challenge of creating a first for Kenya – the biggest display of public wildlife art ever seen in the country.
A number of schools are also joining in. Students from Brookhouse Schools, The International School of Kenya and Kenton College will also help design and decorate several lions demonstrating that the creative process can be huge fun whilst also learning about conservation and citizenship. Teachers and pupils alike will be getting into the spirit of Pride of Africa, building stories and activities around their lion.
To coincide with Born Free Foundation’s 25th Anniversary, Pride of Kenya will culminate in a spectacular dinner and auction on 4th November, attended by Born Free founder Virginia McKenna OBE and Born Free CEO, Will Travers, where each lion will be auctioned to the highest bidder. The funds raised from the auction will then be dedicated to lion conservation in Kenya and Born Free Foundation’s work.
Will Travers concluded: “Pride of Kenya is good for lions, good for artists and good for Kenya. It’s also a unique way for Nairobi citizens in particular to get in touch with wildlife as part of this remarkable major, city-wide event!
I urge everyone to find out more by visiting www.prideofkenya.co.ke or call our team at the Born Free Kenya office on 020 883974 / 020 884 972.”
Limited numbers of lions are available for sponsorship, if your business or school would like to get involved, please contact Alice Owen on 0735 200 200.