Rula Lenska in Conversation With Wildlife Born Free Founder

A special evening with Will Travers MBE, co-Founder of Born Free Foundation (BFF) in conversation with actress and BFF Patron, Rula Lenska about wildlife, conservation, education and celebrating the 40th anniversary of the charity will be hosted at The Kenton Theatre on Friday 17 November.

Will’s parents, Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers starred in the 1966 true-life film Born Free about the story of conservationists Joy and George Adamson who rescued a lioness cub called Elsa and successfully returned her to the wild.  Virginia and Bill went on to make several wildlife films together, including in a film about Pole Pole an elephant calf which was gifted to London Zoo by the Kenyan government which Virginia and Bill tried to stop and campaigned for a better life.  After Pole Pole died in 1984 Will and Virginia launched Zoo Check charity which has evolved into BFF.

Will and Rula have known each other for 30+ years.  Will said, “I am looking forward to sharing the stage with this gorgeous lady.  To share stories; some of the showbiz side of things we’ll find a way of weaving that in but also our shared passion for wildlife and for its welfare whether it’s wildlife in captivity or wildlife in the wild.  As well as some of the projects that we have worked on together over the years.”

Rula added, “I’ve been involved from the very beginning including rescuing dolphins from captivity and Elefriends before Born Free took over the whole organisation.  Virginia has been my icon for many years and still is.  I love her dearly.  I love the whole concept of Born Free which is filled with passion and genuine caring. I’m looking forward to hearing about Will’s early life as a child in Africa and how he was imbued with this passion and love for wildlife passed on by his Mum and Dad.  There’ll be lots of stories to tell of two friends who have known each other for a long time, some of which people won’t know. I think it’s going to be fun-filled magical evening.”

Celebrating the 40th anniversary we asked Will what has been his highlight.  Will replied, “It’s really hard to extract just one activity because there have quite a lot of highlights from the efforts. Making all zoos in the European Union licensed was down to us (3,500 zoos).  Ending the use of wild animals in circuses in the UK or was it helping to end the international commercial ivory trade or not having any dolphins in captivity in the UK.  I suppose if I had to pick one thing it would be, as we’ve been around for so long, we have relentlessly opened people’s eyes to the challenges and problems faced by so many species in captivity and in the wild.  We have brought about at least a change in people’s attitudes.  We call ourselves compassionate conservationists and that’s because we put compassion at the heart of everything we do.”

There are still big challenges ahead, Will commented, “Where do you begin, the world is facing a biodiversity crisis at the moment.  It’s a crisis of our making. It’s estimated a million species are facing extinction and the process of extinction.  We all know that extinction happens naturally but it is the rate of extinction and the drivers of extinction that are so worrying and we’re talking about extinction brought about by people. That is the massive challenge.  When we see our government and other governments and businesses relentlessly pursuing an agenda that is anti-planet.  It is short-term, expedient and it is not what really needs to be done to slow, halt and reverse the biodiversity crisis and that feels me with real dread.  We can’t do it on our own.  We need governments to show real leadership.”

From starting the charity with £6 with 6 Directors in 1984, BFF has grown to £6m for the protection of wildlife around the world.  A current BFF project is to rescue lions from Ukraine and to take them to their sanctuary in South Africa.”   Will encourages people to connect with conservation through their adoption scheme to understand the issues and what is going on which is for all ages.

People often ask Rula why she did Big Brother, Rula explains, “I made thousands to give Born Free and it was wonderful to be able to do that. I would never have been able to do that if I hadn’t done that ghastly programme.”

Rula continues to travel all over the world to see animals living in the wild.  She commented, “I’ve been awfully lucky to be all over the world. I’ve just come back from 2 weeks in Zambia, every time I go I am so refilled with energy and wonder at our stunning world which is slowly being decimated mostly by greed.

Rula and Will know a lot about animals, we asked them for an interesting fact that people wouldn’t know.  Rula said, “Elephants have 44,000 muscles in their trunks and they can stun a dog with a sneeze and knock them unconscious.  They can also take a thorn out of their foot with their trunk.  They are the most dexterous animal in the world.  Will added, “Elephants are also afraid of bees which is why after we did some research we implemented bee hive fencing to stop the elephants getting into farmer’s crops in Africa.  As soon as the wire with the bee hives on is jiggled the elephants turn tail.”

The evening will end with an auction in aid of the Born Free Foundation which will include an embellished print from Gary Hodges, the UK’s bestselling wildlife pencil artist, a limited edition book Lion: Pride Before the Fall by George Logan (only 50 copies in the world), BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year, David Lloyd’s Book, All Eyes Speak One Language and a unique Last White Rhino print donated by Rula.

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