Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers during the making of Born Free © Columbia Pictures
Born Free, which starred Virginia McKenna OBE and late husband Bill Travers MBE, touched the hearts and minds of millions of people and is, today, enjoyed by new generations of movie-lovers worldwide.
The film tells the enchanting and dramatic true story of real-life couple, Joy and George Adamson, who raised Elsa, an orphaned lion cub, to adulthood and successfully released her back into the wild.
It inspired Virginia and Bill, along with eldest son Will Travers OBE, to establish the international wildlife charity the Born Free Foundation, 32 years ago, on 19 March.
Virginia and Bill are introduced to Her Majesty The Queen at the Royal Film screening of Born Free in 1966 © The Born Free Foundation
Virginia says, “Filming Born Free was a life-changing experience. It taught us to understand and respect lions and their nature. We could never have imagined the impact the film would have — not only on our family but also on the many millions who have watched it over the years.”
Virgina and Bill holding lion cubs © Columbia Pictures
President of the Born Free Foundation Will Travers says, “The fight for the survival of lions in the wild has never been more urgent.”
Experts believe lion numbers have fallen from an estimated 100,000 50 years ago to as few as 20,000 today across Africa.
Reasons for this rapid decline include loss and fragmentation of habitat, retaliatory killings and trophy hunting.
“We’ve already been successful in securing protection for lions under the US Endangered Species Act but without concerted action at all levels of government globally, the species could disappear from significant parts of Africa during our lifetime,” says Travers.
Find out more about the Born Free Foundation and join in the 50th anniversary celebrations on Twitter using the hashtag #YearoftheLion
Look out for the BBC Wildlife exclusive report from Kenya with Born Free Foundation and Will Travers in our Spring issue (on sale 15 April). #YearoftheLion
Find out how Kenyan Warriors are protecting lions
Read more wildlife news stories in BBC Wildlife Magazine