ABOUT THE ANIMAL
Lions are iconic. They’re the Kings, the emblems of wildlife, the stars of one of the most iconic movies of all time. To imagine a world without them is impossible. It’s a reality that we never believe we could ever reach. Unfortunately, it is possible, but only if we let it be.
Lions aren’t the first animal that is thought of when thinking about endangered species. They are in fact listed as vulnerable, but this is not the most accurate representation for lions in much of Africa. With conservation efforts in parts of the continent increasing numbers, the vast majority of the populations are struggling. Lion populations have decreased by half in only 25 years!
Being at the top of the food chain, they only have one predator, us. Habitat loss is the single biggest threat to lions. We are pushing them out of their habitats because of our swelling cities and increasing needs for land for agriculture, making their available space to live and thrive smaller and smaller. This means greater competition for food and territory, with not enough to go around for the once thriving populations. As young lions leave their pride to form their own, they are increasingly finding it difficult to find anywhere suitable. Once able to roam the entire African continent, they are now restricted to small pockets, pockets that are still shrinking. Lions are therefore forced to come closer to the lives of humans, often being killed for this by angry farmers when they attack their livestock.
Then there are the most disturbing threats. They are hunted by big trophy hunters looking for their next big wall mount or rug. They are also hunted for their bones, thought to have magical properties if you turn them into wine. Lion numbers in countries that allow this are being decimated, despite the claims of “sustainable offtake”.
Lions need our help now more than ever. If we are to allow the continued practices that are still encouraged in the majority of Africa, the King of the jungle will be no more. How can there be Africa without the iconic lion? We must act now; we must save the lion.
ABOUT THE PROJECT
The world’s favourite eco-warrior artists, Gillie and Marc, are announcing their latest sculpture in their global conservation project, #LoveTheLast. Partnering with the UK charity Born Free, the artists will be creating the largest bronze lion sculpture in the world which will be taking up residence in the heart of London.
Inspired by the true story and the film ‘Born Free’, this sculpture is a celebration of an orphaned lion cub who was saved by a loving couple. In Northern Kenya, a game warden called George Adamson was sent to deal with a lion who killed a man. Finding three cubs that were left behind he took them home to his wife, Joy, naming them Big One, Lastika and Elsa. They raised the cubs themselves rehoming two at a zoo. But they had formed a special connection with Elsa. They decided to release her to the wild and started the difficult journey of teaching her to fend for herself. After a lot of setbacks including a lack of hunting skills, being attacked by a warthog, and even becoming seriously injured after a different attack, Elsa found her feet. With a lot of hard work and dedication, they taught her how to be a wild cat and set her free in Kenya. Elsa grew to have cubs of her own, starting a new generation of lions that would have never been.
In the sculpture, Elsa stands on a 1961 landrover. On the ground surrounding her are her cubs, 20 in total. There are also two couples of adult lions, George and Joy, and Bill and Virginia, the real-life couple who raised the little orphaned Elsa, and the actors who played them in the movie. The cubs symbolise the future generations of lions that can be created with hard work, dedication, and a lot of love.
The lion is the national animal of England. This may seem strange as England is far from an ideal habitat for a lion, but the connection goes back to the 11th century. In the Middle Ages, Barbary lions were kept in the Tower of London’s menagerie. It was also the term given to brave medieval soldiers, the most famous being Richard I, or Richard the Lionheart. It is also thought that the lion became the symbol of Britain as it best personifies the qualities of what it is to be British: strength, courage, pride, and many more.
The lion is, therefore, a big part of the identity of England. From iconography to national sports teams, the symbol of the lion is everywhere. If lions were to go extinct, the British would lose a part of themselves. This is why the artists have chosen London as the perfect home for their lion. A constant reminder of not only the beauty of the animal but of what it is to be British, the lion will leap onto the streets of London to be welcomed with open arms. It takes strength and courage to fight extinction, and this is the reminder people will need to take up that call.
Born Free Foundation: Born Free is a UK charity that is on a mission to ensure all animals, either wild or living in captivity, are treated with compassion and respect. Stemming from the death of a beautiful elephant named Pole Pole who was sent to live in distress at London Zoo, Born Free was created to ensure that Pole Poles death was not in vain. Opposing the captivity of animals, Born Free works tirelessly to ensure that habitats are preserved, the needs of all animals are protected and being met, and to promote compassionate conservation.
With nine working priorities, Born Free is making an impact on many important areas for the wellbeing of wild animals. Focusing on the battle against poaching and trophy hunters, the exploitation of captive animals, human/wildlife co-existence and conservation, transboundary projects and more, Born Free is taking steps to bring us closer to a world where animals can live without suffering at the hands of humans.
HOW TO HELP
The sculpture is aligned with the hashtag #LoveTheLast. Visitors will be asked to take a photo with the artwork and share it with the hashtag, jump-starting efforts to spread critical awareness. To help protect lions you can give a donation to any of the many amazing foundations such as the Born Free Foundation: https://www.bornfree.org.uk