Our charity has a unique and very special history. In 1964, Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna travelled to Kenya to star in the classic wildlife film ‘Born Free’, based on the best-selling book by Joy Adamson. Released in 1966, the film told the true story of George and Joy Adamson’s fight to return Elsa the lioness to the wild.
The Adamson’s story was enjoyed by tens of millions around the globe, inspiring a generation, and changing the world’s attitude to lions forever. Making Born Free profoundly affected Bill and Virginia. Working with George and Joy influenced the rest of their lives. Their close contact with the lions sparked a lifelong commitment to wildlife and they realised wild animals belong in the wild, not incarcerated in captivity.
After Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers' time in Kenya making the film Born Free, Bill began to produce wildlife documentaries and films including 'An Elephant Called Slowly' (1969) also set in Kenya, and featuring Bill and Virginia with Pole Pole ('Po-lee Po-lee'), a little elephant calf.
Pole Pole was only two when snatched from her wild family as a gift from the then Kenyan government to London Zoo. When filming was over Bill and Virginia did everything they could to prevent the move, but the little elephant calf was sent to London.
In 1982 Bill and Virginia went to see her there. Difficult to manage with no companions of her own kind, Pole Pole frustratedly paced her barren enclosure, prematurely aged by captivity. They called her name. She stopped, turned and came to them, her trunk outstretched, straining to touch their reaching hands. Even in her distress, and after all these years, she remembered them. "It was a heartbreaking and life-changing moment," recalls Virginia.
Bill and Virginia renewed their campaign to give Pole Pole a better life, but in 1983, aged just 16, she collapsed and died. Yet wild elephants can live for more than 60 years. Determined Pole Pole’s short life and untimely death should not be in vain, in 1984 Bill and Virginia launched Zoo Check with their son Will Travers, the charity that has evolved into the Born Free Foundation, a renowned international wildlife charity.
Born Free is devoted to compassionate conservation and animal welfare, taking action worldwide to protect threatened species and stop individual animal suffering. We rescue animals from lives of misery in tiny cages and give them a lifetime of care.
Born Free protects lions, elephants, tigers, gorillas, wolves, polar bears, dolphins, marine turtles and many more species in their natural habitat, working with local communities to help people and wildlife live together without conflict. Our high-profile campaigns change public attitudes, persuade decision-makers and get results. Every year, Born Free helps hundreds of thousands of animals worldwide.