Born to be wild

LionsAfrica’s lions are just one of the iconic species that Kenya Airways’ conservation partner, the Born Free Foundation, is working hard to protect in the wild. In this special report, we look at the charity’s projects across the KQ network

Since 2013 Kenya Airways has joined forces with international wildlife charity the Born Free Foundation to help raise funds for its vital conservation projects. Thanks to its innovative ‘Change Brings Change’ in-flight collection programme, the airline and generous passengers are protecting wild animals – from lions and rhinos to elephants and tigers.
The charity was founded in 1984 by Virginia McKenna OBE and Bill Travers MBE following their starring roles in the classic film Born Free. Today, with their son Will Travers OBE, the Foundation works throughout the world to save animal lives, stop suffering, rescue individuals and protect rare species. Dozens of these life-saving projects can be reached via Kenya Airways’ network, especially in Africa, but also in Asia and Europe.

This is a special year for the Foundation – 50 years since the much-loved film Born Free told the true story of Elsa the lioness and conservationists George and Joy Adamson’s battle to return her to the wild. Elsa is featured on the charity’s logo, and to mark the anniversary 2016 has been designated Born Free’s Year of the Lion, with a focus on raising funds and awareness of the plight of the lion.

As human populations expand, wildlife is under increasing threat. Born Free takes action to protect threatened and endangered species such as lions, rhinos, elephants, tigers, great apes and marine turtles in their natural habitat. Working with local communities, the charity is devoted to compassionate conservation and finds practical, humane solutions so that people and wildlife can live together without conflict. Taking into account the well-being of individual animals when making conservation decisions can produce better outcomes. Every animal is a crucial and sustaining member of their community and ecosystem.

Born Free’s high-profile and dynamic campaigns capture the public imagination, inform and persuade decision-makers, and get results time and again. They battle the brutal global trade in animal products such as ivory and rhino horn, fight the killing of wild animals for meat and body parts, oppose hunting animals for ‘sport’, and much more.

Today fewer than 20,000 lions survive in Africa as their habitat dwindles, they come into conflict with people, and hundreds are slaughtered each year by trophy hunters in the name of ‘sport’. With Kenya Airways’ support, Born Free is working across the continent to stop exploitation and protect populations, and end international trade in lion bones and body parts. In Meru National Park in northern Kenya, where Elsa was released, Born Free recently launched an important conservation initiative with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and in 2016 there will be a scientific lion census at this 870sq km heritage site.

“There was a time, 50 years ago, when wild lion numbers were in excess of 100,000,” says Born Free Founder Virginia McKenna. “Though aware of the challenges lions faced, I could never have foreseen the devastation about to befall this iconic species. Filming Born Free was a life-changing experience. It taught us to understand and respect lions. We could never have imagined the impact the film would have – not only on our family but also on the many millions who watched it. It is unimaginable to contemplate the possible extinction of these extraordinary animals and we must do whatever is in our power to stop their further decline.”

Protection in partnership
In Kenya’s Nairobi and Lake Nakuru National Parks, Kenya Airways is donating funds and equipment to KWS rhino anti-poaching teams. Unfortunately, rhinos are also under terrible threat and today just 25,000 remain. The main problem is poaching for their valuable horns, which are used in traditional Asian medicine. Kenya has over 1000 rhinos, the third-largest population in the world after South Africa and Namibia, and with Kenya Airways’ help Born Free and KWS are doing everything they can to keep them safe.

Born Free Kenya’s Country Manager Tim Oloo is delighted: “Working together is the only way to protect Kenya’s wildlife heritage. Rhino are an ancient species whose current plight is entirely the result of human greed, superstition and ignorance. It is our responsibility to ensure this amazing creature is not lost on our watch. Our good friends at Kenya Airways are making a strategic contribution to the dedicated KWS rhino team as they carry out their life-saving work.”

Saving giants
Since 1992 Born Free has supported the work of elephant expert Cynthia Moss and the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya as they monitor and protect wild elephants at the foot of Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain.

There is something special about elephants and it’s not just their colossal size, incredible trunk and magnificent tusks. Elephants are gentle and wise, perceptive and sentient, living in close-knit loyal family groups. The 393sq km Amboseli Park is one of Kenya’s best-loved and most-visited national parks and is renowned for its elephant population, which numbers more than 1300 individuals.

These include Ewok the baby elephant and his mother Emily Kate, who live with their family and were made world-famous in the BBC Echo of the Elephants television series. Echo was Emily Kate’s mother and the wise matriarch of the EB family, guiding and protecting the herd. Sadly, she died of old age in 2009 aged 64 but Emily Kate has learned to cope well without her mother. Today the EB family is flourishing and has over 45 members, including Echo’s sisters, daughters, female cousins and their calves.

Tragically, elephant poaching and the illegal trade in ivory is a mammoth international problem. This global business is worth hundreds of millions of pounds, and run by organised and ruthless criminal networks. Horrifically, some 50,000 African elephants are brutally killed each year by poachers and urgent measures are needed to stop this carnage. Changing consumer attitudes in China and the Far East, where a burgeoning middle class is fuelling a massive upsurge in demand for ivory, is another monumental task.

“There were around one million elephants in the 1980s,” said Born Free President Will Travers. “Now that number has fallen to 420,000 due to rampant poaching. It is a conservation crisis and elephants are on the brink across much of Africa. We must take decisive action to save the elephant as never before.”

Born Free campaigns against the international ivory trade and their support for anti-poaching continues in Kenya, Tanzania, Burkina Faso and Ethiopia. Meanwhile, Born Free also supports the dynamic EAGLE Network (Eco Activists for Governance and Law Enforcement) that helps to capture and prosecute dealers in elephants and other rare wildlife such as apes in Cameroon, Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Gabon, Guinea-Conakry, Togo, Senegal, Benin and Uganda.

Tigers in crisis
Over in Asia, Born Free is working to protect wild tigers, one of nature’s most amazing hunters. Regrettably, wild tigers are under terrible threat and the main problem is human activity. Just 50 years ago there were 40,000 tigers across Asia, today more than 90 per cent have been wiped out and just 3500 remain. Their forest homes are cut down for wood, dug up for mines and dams, and used for farming and human settlement. Poachers try to kill tigers for their beautiful fur, and use their body parts for traditional Asian medicines. The largest remaining tiger population is in India, but even here as few as 2225 survive. Together with local communities, Born Free is working hard in India and also Thailand to protect wild tigers.

To the rescue
Conservation is vitally important, but the Foundation never forgets the individual and every animal counts. Its emergency teams rescue vulnerable animals from lives of misery in tiny cages or those orphaned by poachers and provide expert lifetime care at specialised, spacious, natural habitat sanctuaries. Wherever possible, following careful rehabilitation, the animals are returned to the wild where they belong.

Born Free rescues a huge variety of animals, from lions, tigers, leopards and cheetahs, to gorillas, chimpanzees and monkeys, to elephants, bears and dolphins. The charity has major rescue centres in Ethiopia, South Africa and India, and supports sanctuaries in Uganda, Cameroon, Malawi, Zambia, Sri Lanka, China and Vietnam.

“Our rescues have resulted in the closure of zoos and circuses, shutting off forever a source of exploitation and suffering,” explains Tricia Holford, animal rescuer and Born Free’s very first employee. “They have encouraged new supporters, allowing more animals to be helped. And individual lives have been transformed.”

Individuals such as Dolo the lonely lion who was kept for years on a one-metre chain. Born Free rescued him and he now lives with Safia the lioness at its Ensessakotteh rescue centre, near Addis Ababa in Ethiopia. Meanwhile in South Africa, Sinbad the ‘little lion with a big heart’ rescued from a zoo in Romania, and Achee the lioness rescued from a Romanian car park, share a large bush enclosure at Born Free’s sanctuary in Shamwari Reserve.

Zoo Check
Sadly, throughout the world, millions of animals are exploited in zoos, circuses, marine parks and private collections for human ‘entertainment’. Wild animals suffer physically and mentally from the lack of freedom that captivity imposes. Born Free’s Zoo Check campaign remains at the heart of the charity and works to stop suffering, and phase out zoos and captive exploitation.

Zoo Check challenges the multi-billion-pound global zoo industry and is a voice for captive animals. With a special focus on the United Kingdom and the rest of the European Union, Zoo Check investigates neglect and cruelty, exposes suffering and exploitation, campaigns for tighter legislation and publishes groundbreaking reports.

Shockingly, capturing animals such as elephants from the wild and putting them in cages for the rest of their lives is still allowed. Born Free’s work to end this barbaric, cruel practice continues. In Europe its anti-captive exploitation projects include important research into the plight of animals in zoos and lobbying for change, investigations into wild animals kept as pets, and campaigns to end the use of captive dolphins and wild animals in circuses.

“Zoos have reached a dead-end,” explains Born Free’s Will Travers, “millions of captive animals in inadequate, unnatural conditions, widespread suffering and abnormal behaviours. There are few endangered species and even fewer released to the wild. Animals locked up for life deserve better. Time to move on.”

Described by The Times newspaper as “big enough to make a difference, but small enough to care”, Born Free is not a large anonymous organisation but a family of like-minded people who share the same goals. From humble beginnings, Born Free has grown into a global force for wildlife. But a personal passion for wild animals and desire for positive change remain at the heart of its charity.

Born Free in the UK
Meanwhile in the UK, the unique variety of species – from hedgehogs, foxes and badgers, to deer, otters, bats and birds – face many threats and dangers. Every year wild animals are injured and orphaned, and this is often because of human activity. Problems include road traffic accidents, entanglement in rubbish and fishing lines, poisoning by pesticides, attack by domestic pets, window ‘strikes’, and much more. These incidents take a huge toll, especially when you factor in loss of habitat, intensive farming practices and building development. Born Free is fighting to protect the wonderful wild animals found in the UK. The charity supports the dedicated sanctuaries across the nation that rescue animals in need, provide the good food, special milk, medicines and expert care they need and prepare them for life back in the wild whenever possible.

You can find out more about Born Free’s work to save wild animals at

Help KQ & the Born Free Foundation to safeguard the world’s wildlife by placing any loose or unwanted change in the envelopes provided on board and hand to a member of the cabin crew. The money received will make a huge difference and help us in our fight to ensure a future for the planet’s iconic wildlife. Thank you!

You can help
None of Born Free’s work to save wild animals would be possible without the charity’s team of supporters. Visit its website to join as a member, adopt an animal such as Ewok the elephant or Dolo the lion, or choose a wild gift. Sign up for its FREE monthly enews at