Lioness walks in grass in golden light

Dame Virginia McKenna's Circle of Compassion

Everything we do is about one. One animal, one animal suffering, one animal we can help, one species, one person, one community, one leader – and that becomes one more.

Dame Virginia McKenna
Circle of Compassion logoVirginia’s Circle of Compassion brings together an inspiring network of like-minded people, with a passion for wild animals, from all over the world. Pooling knowledge, distinctive ideas and expertise, the remarkable group of women are on a mission to help transform global conservation and wild animal welfare.

Guided by Virginia, members share insights and collaborate on unique enterprises to support wildlife, voting to allocate funds to specific projects. Motivated by compassion, the prestigious Circle sponsors key initiatives and makes a huge difference so wild animals can thrive.

Regular updates and online meetings provide Circle members exclusive updates and behind the scenes insights from Born Free. Our work never stops and funding from the Circle of Compassion supports projects highlighted from our programmatic teams.

In October 2023, our Circle of Compassion enjoyed an online teams meeting, with almost every member attending, including our US and Belgium members. “It was a lovely evening,” said Born Free’s Events & Philanthropy Manager Joanne Bartholomew. “And how wonderful that our Co-Founders Virginia and her son Will Travers could join us – everyone was thrilled to see them!”

Members enjoyed updates on the vital projects they had voted to fund this year, including our powerful new animation Enough is Enough, launched on 17th October 2023, narrated by our Founder Patron Dame Joanna Lumley, and calling for an Elephant-Free UK. The Circle were also delighted to discover more about the solar power they had helped provide for Born Free’s big cat rescue centres at Shamwari Private Game Reserve in South Africa. This is an essential part of our application process to receive official accreditation from the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries – which recognises the highest possible standards.

An important section of the meeting was to consider the allocation of Circle funding for 2024 and Born Free’s programmatic teams did a fantastic job presenting their potential projects, all in need of support. “The presentations were really absorbing,” said Dame Virginia McKenna. “I am so proud of the wonderful and fascinating work being done.”

“It was an impactful meeting,” said Will Travers. “But, it will be a difficult decision for the Circle members to decide which new projects to support.” Voting took place over the following few days and, happily, the Circle members voted to split £22,000 funding between four projects:

  1. Pride of Meru – to monitor and protect wild lions in our homeland of Kenya
  2. Exotic pet trade – to help our policy team seek tighter rules in UK and Europe
  3. Lions for Life – to support a school film, part of free, downloadable resources
  4. UK wildlife – to fund rescue, rehabilitation and release of animals in need.

For further information about joining Virginia’s Circle of Compassion, please email Joanne Bartholomew who will be delighted to hear from you, or download the PDF below.

Join Virginia’s Circle of Compassion


Head shot of Karen Botha

Karen Botha, Born Free Managing Director

We are delighted to share news from Born Free’s Managing Director, Karen Botha, who visited the Ensessa Kotteh sanctuary in Ethiopia to see first-hand the impact our Circle of Compassion members have had this year.

“I visited Ensesseh Kotteh for the first time in early July, to meet our Born Free team in Ethiopia and to visit our Sanctuary there.

“The Sanctuary is a peaceful oasis of calm, in a beautiful part of the country. The layout of the Sanctuary is thoughtful and well planned, and the enclosures are clearly built to prioritise the care and privacy of the animals. Our team there, made up of animal care givers, security personnel, facilities maintenance, and veterinary care, are all exceptional!

“There is no doubt there are major challenges in the country in terms of security, and of course rampant inflation which affects all aspects of our operations there, but despite these challenges, Born Free colleagues are so incredibly focused and dedicated to the animals and to Born Free, and it was humbling for me to get to know them all better.

“I was delighted to see that the work to install the electric fencing around the primate and lion enclosures was all but complete. The chosen installer had done a fantastic job and Bereket is very happy with the results. The team will receive final training on monitoring and maintenance from the service provider and once they are happy that the Born Free team is comfortable with managing the systems, they will sign the work off. There will now also be a period of learning, both by the animals in care and by the visiting wild animals, as they learn to respect the fence and to keep away from it. I am told that the fence emits a ‘pulse’ which is unpleasant to the touch but is in no way dangerous to animals.

“There is no doubt that without the financial contribution from Virginia’s Circle of Compassion, this vitally important intervention would not have been able to take place as quickly as it has. Its introduction to the Sanctuary means that the animals in our care, sadly there as a result of the illegal wildlife trade, will not be tormented by the wild animals outside the enclosure trying to get to them, and of course, equally importantly, our staff and neighbouring communities are better protected too. Thank you to all in Virginia’s Circle of Compassion for your continued support.”

A tall fence line in a grassy landscape

The new fencing at Ensessa Kotteh