In memory of richard bonfield


By Virginia McKenna OBE, Born Free’s Co-Founder & Trustee

It is with great sadness that I write to tell you of the death, on 14th January 2021, of Richard Bonfield. He was Born Free’s Poet-in-Residence from 2009 until 2017. He had a unique and wonderful way with words – creating images and stirring emotions with extraordinary sensitivity and imagination. He had been unwell for some time, and unable to live independently. Then, very recently, he was taken into hospital.

His brothers Chris and Nick were a tower of strength and kindness until the end, and I am sure everyone will want to join with me in sending them and all the family our deepest sympathy.

Richard wrote a special poem for us called The Born Free Alphabet. I end with his  words – and with never-ending gratitude to him for sharing his innermost thoughts and feelings.


By Richard Bonfield

For Virginia McKenna, Will Travers, The Born Free Team and children everywhere

“What were zoos…?” said the child
“They were acres of steel sorrow” said the mother
“Where tigers roamed their dirty pens
Great carnivores as battery hens
The blazing beauty tiger-striped
Washed out by cheap fluorescent lights.”
“And what were circuses…?” said the child
“They were animal freak-shows” said the father
“Where lions… natural instincts chained
Were made to leap through hoops of flame
Where elephants were made to sit
And beg the clowns for bags of crisps.”
“And what were dolphinariums…?” said the child
“They were chlorine coliseums” said the mother
“Where the ocean’s most translucent jewels 
Were made to jump wires in a swimming pool
A choreography of shame
For which we all must take the blame.”
“And where have they gone…?” said the child
“We fought for years to close them down” said the father
“To exorcize the dreadful stain
That caused the wild things so much pain
And now the zoos are extinct
The bull rings turned to skating rinks
And all the centuries of pain
Are bathed in love’s eternal flame.
And all the animals are free
To skim across the azure seas
To stalk across the ancient plains
To dance in gardens wet with rain.
The jungles all have been replanted
Their green mansions all re-enchanted
And now the trees have all re-grown
The tigers claim their ancient thrones.
The lion – still the king of beasts
On teeming plains has been released
The elephants in herds all roam
Across their lovely hosepipe homes
And dolphins surf the coral seas
With smiles that say… We’re all born free…!”
“You saved the Earth” said the child… “you fought so hard
The contents of the ark are ours…!”
“Can we go on safari sometime?” said the child
“And learn the Born Free Alphabet…?” 
“Of course” said the mother and the father… “This is your prize…!”
Then they switched on the light in their daughter’s eyes.

Listen to Virginia reading Blue Whale by Richard Bonfield on our wildlife poetry page


Image: (c) G Bartholomew


The funeral of Richard Bonfield will take place on 1st February 2021 at 2.30pm.

Those wishing to pay their respects can view a live webcast:

  • WEBSITE: Obitus
  • USERNAME: Bafe7016
  • PASSWORD: 891565