We are the Born Free generation


Today is our 35th anniversary! In a special blog, Our President and Co-Founder, Will Travers OBE, looks back on 35 years of our charity

It is more than three decades since my mother Virginia McKenna OBE, my late father Bill Travers MBE and I, together with a handful of committed individuals, sat around the kitchen table and decided to take a leap into the dark – to set up a group to investigate and expose what was going on in zoos and other captive facilities.

“They’ll be a nine-day-wonder,” the then Director of London Zoo told the media. Over 12,700 days later, we are still going strong.

I don’t like celebrations, especially when the job isn’t over. But I do want to recognise what Born Free and its amazing team have achieved over the years – achievements that could simply not have happened without the support of a growing global band of supporters who share our vision and our values.

There are so many highlights, but here are just a few I’d like to celebrate:

  • Exposing the mental suffering of Polar bears and other species in zoos
  • Persuading the European Commission to introduce the Zoos Directive which requires all 3,500 EU zoos to be licensed and meet certain standards

  • Helping bring an end to the captive dolphin industry in the UK and taking three of the last dolphins to a free and wild life in the Caribbean – the UK has been a captive dolphin-free zone since 1992
  • Campaigning successfully to bring in the international ivory trade ban, always under attack but never fully reversed
  • Helping create The Species Survival Network, to challenge both the illegal and legal wildlife trade
  • Setting up Born Free USA which does outstanding work for rescued primates, and legislative reform to end trapping, and capacity-building for West African wildlife law enforcement agencies
  • Seeing Born Free Kenya, Born Free Ethiopia and Born Free South Africa blossom and become leading players in wild animal rescue and care at our sanctuaries, and the conservation of species such as the Ethiopian wolf and Africa’s wild lions
  • Launching Living with Tigers which, with its local partner organisations, now plays a major role in protecting the largest viable area for tigers in India, home to 500 wild tigers
  • Supporting our education work now reaching tens of thousands of young people thirsty for knowledge and empowered to chart a new, more sustainable and compassionate course for the future.

It makes my heart soar when I reflect on what we have done – together – and it quickens my pulse when I think of what still needs to be achieved in our complex and sometimes brutal world.

None of this would be possible without the engines that drive our Born Free machine. The marketeers and developers; the communicators and media spokespeople; the social media gurus who use every possible platform to inform, inspire, engage and empower; the financial managers; and operational masterminds who make things work when the odds are stacked against us.

And, of course, the people from all walks of life who support us in whatever way they can. The hundreds of thousands of citizens who spread the word, adopt an animal and for us, organise a fund-raiser, put on an event, run a marathon, climb a mountain. The actors, singers, auctioneers, journalists, writers, comedians, musicians, students who give of their time and their talent.

Born Free is here to stay. From our roots as a tiny group of concerned individuals to a position of growing influence and impact. We are changing the way people think about animals, changing the way people treat animals – and changing the lives of wild animals wherever they may be for good.

35 years is a long time. It’s timely to reflect on where we have come from, where we are, and where we are going. Our history tells us who we are and what we stand for and our future vision describes the kind of compassionate, caring, respectful world we wish to see.

The spirit of Elsa is burning bright.