Born Free Forever Edinburgh

In honour of what would have been the 100th Birthday year of Bill Travers MBE, Born Free is celebrating its fearless Co-Founder’s legacy by designating 2022 our 'Year of the Lion'. Born Free's year of action for lions, sees a UK-wide exhibition - Born Free Forever - featuring artists Gillie and Marc's stunning life-size, bronze lion sculptures to raise awareness and vital funds for lions through the Forever Lions Fund, set up in Bill's memory.

On 6th October 2022 the Born Free Forever exhibition opened at The Meadows, Edinburgh with an additional 'mini pride' at St Andrew Square, where they will remain in residence until January 2023. More than 50 local youngsters from the nearby George Heriot’s School took part in a lion-based art workshop, led by Scottish artist and designer, and Drawing for the Planet (DftP) founder and CEO, Jane Lee McCracken.

Born Free said: 

"What an incredible day as our Born Free Forever lions arrived at their final destination, Edinburgh. The sun shone, and artist and Born Free champion, Jane Lee McCracken hosted a very special lion drawing workshop for a group of school children.


Born Free Forever 2022 Jane Lee McCracken

The Born Free Forever artwork by Jane Lee McCracken, features 25 Biro drawings by George Heriot's children created on 6th October during her Born Free Forever drawing workshop for the exhibition opening. Jane said:

"In celebration of the Born Free Forever exhibition and lions I selected 25 characterful drawings by Heriot's children to feature in the Born Free Forever artwork. The artwork not only raises further awareness of this noble species and the real lions in Born Free's care it also commemorates the exhibition opening and the special day the children, the Born Free Team and I shared. Sadly the sculpture of Black was stolen at the previous exhibition in Bristol so only 24 lions are exhibited in Edinburgh but I wanted to remember Black by including a 25th lion in the artwork."


Virgina and Bill bronze lion statues by Gillie and Marc 

Born Free brought its dramatic and powerful exhibition to Edinburgh, to raise awareness about the catastrophic plight facing the world’s wild lion population, and fight for the long-term survival of these majestic beasts.

Entitled Born Free Forever and created by internationally-recognised Australian artists, Gillie and Marc, the exhibit features 25 life-size bronze sculptures of lions. Each representing a real-life lion, with its own unique story, the exhibition highlights the grave threats facing these big cats, both in captivity and in the wild. Its centrepiece is the iconic Elsa the lioness on top of a 4x4, as depicted in the much-loved 1966 film Born Free, which starred charity co-founders Virginia McKenna OBE and her late husband Bill Travers MBE.

Hilts sculpture

For Edinburgh-born Jane, the exhibition brings a vital message about the future of the species to the people of Scotland. When the film Born Free was made in 1960s, there were around 200,000 lions in the wild across Africa. There are now only 20,000 remaining, a devastating decline which, if not halted, could see them becoming extinct across much of their wild range within 30 years.

The free exhibit, the largest of its kind in the UK, will be in Edinburgh for the next three months. During this time, the majority of the lions will take ‘pride’ of place at The Meadows. However, in a special partnership with Essential Edinburgh, three of the beautiful lion statues will be situated in St. Andrew Square Garden, a serene space among the hustle and bustle of the capital, well-known as a hub for art exhibitions. This will give visitors in the very heart of the city the opportunity to experience the sculptures, as well as follow a trail of Born Free decals in windows of local businesses.

Elsa sculpture

The opening of Born Free Forever in Scotland is hugely significant for Born Free. It is part of a year of action for lions in memory of Born Free’s fearless founder, Bill Travers MBE, who would have turned 100 this year, but for his sudden and tragic death in 1994. Trailblazing wildlife campaigner, Bill, co-founded the charity in 1984 with his wife, Virginia, and eldest son, Will Travers OBE. Born Free has named 2022 ‘Year of the Lion’ in Bill’s honour.

A Forever Lions Fund, set up in his memory, will use money raised by the exhibition and other donations to help protect wild lions, resolve human-predator conflict, care for rescued lions, and stop the slaughter of lions for trophies and as part of cannedlion hunting (the killing of lions in captive facilities from which there is no escape).

Virgina McKenna OBE and Bill Travers MBE during filming of 'Born Free' 1966

Bill and Virginia are fondly remembered around the world for their portrayal of George and Joy Adamson in the much-loved 1966 film, Born Free, which tells the true story of the Adamson’s efforts to rehabilitate an orphaned lioness called Elsa, and return her to the wild. Born Free Forever’s incredible centrepiece features Elsa standing on top of a vintage 4x4. She is the charity’s original inspiration and a symbol of hope for the survival of the species.

Like Elsa, all the sculptures link to Born Free’s history and its ground-breaking rescue and care, policy and conservation work. Each tells a tale of the stark reality and brutal challenges facing lions today. From Christian, the cub purchased from Harrods department store in London and successfully returned to the wild in Kenya, to Makena, the Kenyan lioness living wild in the Born Free-supported Meru National Park, to Cora, saved from appalling conditions in a Spanish zoo, and now living at a sanctuary in South Africa. Other members of the special, bronze pride include Louga, one of Born Free’s ‘Lions of Lockdown’, rescued from a circus in France and given a forever home at Born Free’s sanctuary in Shamwari Private Reserve, South Africa, earlier this year, and Cecil, the lion whose barbaric killing by an American trophy hunter in Zimbabwe in 2015 sparked international outrage.


Nelson sculpture 

Each of the incredible statues is available to purchase, with all the funds supporting Born Free’s vital conservation and welfare work: forever/sculpture-pricelist

There has never been a more crucial time to save lions following a terrifying decline of 90% in just over 55 years. Born Free Forever not only allows visitors in the Scotland to learn about these incredible creatures, but also offers them the chance to join the Born Free Pride, people who vow to protect them for generations to come.

Virginia McKenna OBE and Will Travers OBE at Born Free Forever, Newcastle

Virginia McKenna OBE, Co-Founder & Trustee, Born Free, said “I am overjoyed to be bringing our beautiful lion exhibition, Born Free Forever, to Scotland, a country which has a special place in my heart as it was where, in 1969, my late husband Bill and I worked together on bringing Gavin Maxwell’s magical story, ‘Ring of Bright Water’ to the big screen. I have been back many times, most recently in the summer of 2021. Tragically, since that time, wild lion numbers have declined catastrophically – and Born Free is determined to do something about it! That is why I urge everyone who can to please visit this incredible exhibition and discover why this magnificent pride of lions means so much to Born Free. Each one has its own unique and powerful true story. Through those individual stories, visitors will learn about the plight of lions in captivity, the challenges they face in the wild – where they belong – and what we can all do to help. I’m so thrilled that Edinburgh is hosting this stunning exhibition and I hope people of all ages will come to share the experience and become part of our Born Free Family.”

Will Travers OBE, Executive President & Co-Founder, Born Free, stated Lions are confronted by many challenges, persecuted in the wild and exploited in captivity. We simply cannot ignore their individual suffering and declining numbers for a moment longer. This life-size, outdoor, bronze sculpture exhibition, created by monumental artists Gillie and Marc, and featuring iconic lions, including Elsa on top of a 4x4, champions lions and tells some of their stories. I encourage everyone to visit Born Free Forever in Edinburgh, not only to marvel at the exhibition and learn more about these emblematic and majestic creatures, but to help us raise funds and campaign so that there is a forever for lions.”

Jane Lee McCracken, Artist, Designer & Founder and CEO of Drawing for the Planet, added I am beyond thrilled that the Born Free Forever exhibition will be displayed in my hometown, Edinburgh. It is an honour to partner with Born Free to deliver a Biro drawing workshop to George Heriot’s schoolchildren and provide them with the opportunity to draw the stunning bronze lions. This breath-taking exhibition is vital to raising awareness of the plight of lions and encouraging the protection of this majestic, keystone species for future generations. A world without lions is simply unimaginable.”

Jane Lee McCracken, Born Free Forever, The Meadows

Gillie and Marc, who created the sculptures, concluded The bronze cubs symbolise the future generations of lions that can be created with hard work, dedication and a lot of love. The lion is a big part of our national identity and personifies the qualities of what it is to be British; strength, courage and pride. If wild lions were to become extinct, we would lose part of ourselves.”


Lion Panthera Leo
IUCN* conservation status: VULNERABLE*  

Population: 20,000 DECREASING

*International Union for Conservation of Nature is the world’s main authority on the conservation status of species.

Information via Born Free:


Lions, with their powerful bodies and excellent senses, are formidable hunters. Lions are the only large cats that live and hunt in groups, or prides, with the females doing the majority of the hunting. Prides vary greatly in size, but can include up to three males, around a dozen females, and their young, which are raised co-operatively. Typically, the lionesses in the pride will be related to one another, with the female cubs staying with the group for life. Young males leave the pride, often in small cohorts, and live a wandering existence until they may succeed in establishing a pride of their own by driving out and replacing other males. Mating occurs throughout the year, with females giving birth to a litter of between one and four cubs after a 110-day gestation period. 

*International Union for Conservation of Nature is the world’s main authority on the conservation status of species.


Lion populations face a risk of extinction from numerous threats, including habitat loss due to encroachment by humans. Livestock farmers may use poisons, rifles and snares to remove lions from their land. In addition, prey species have been depleted by the bushmeat trade, and lion populations have become increasingly fragmented as a consequence. In some countries it is still legal to shoot lions for sport. Lions also suffer in captivity and unfortunately, we often encounter lions that have been bred in captivity or captured from the wild for use in zoos and circuses, or sold as pets.


In July 2022 Born Free and Drawing for the Planet's partnered to create the  Lions of Born Free project working with Ethiopian schoolchildren. Lions drawings made by the children for the project were displayed at Born Free's Mane Event on 23 September 2022. As part of this project DftP has created a downloadable PDF of 3 ways you can help lions. Please share by clicking on the image above to download or send the link.


George Heriots students working with Jane Lee McCracken

Fifty children from George Heriot's School attended Jane's drawing workshop. One of Edinburgh's most historic schools, it also has a special link to Jane with both her Father and Uncle attending the school and playing for Heriot's FP Rugby Club.

The workshop involved an inspirational talk by Born Free's Education Officer, Charlie Baker about lions and how the Born Free Forever exhibition is raising awareness about the plight of this species. The children then had the opportunity to draw the lion sculptures, with individual tutoring provided by Jane, using her preferred medium, Biro. She encouraged the children to see the sculptures as the real lions they represent and to make an emotional connections with those lions. Jane said: 

"The children's drawings are immensely expressive and truly capture the character of each Born Free lion. I love how some of the drawings have mud splatters which adds to the story of the drawing - it was a cold morning and the ground was soft underfoot yet despite this the children worked hard to make their beautiful drawings and roar for lions." 


The following gallery features all 53 drawings created by George Heriot's School children for the Born Free Forever workshop including the 25 lion drawings selected for the Born Free Forever artwork :


Bill and Virginia George Heriot's Student

George and Joy Arielle 


Bill and Virginia Agastya 

Elsa Arthur 

Hilts Alice 

Cecil Alice 

George Arthur 

Christian George Heriot's Student

Iman Auroch 

Cub No.11 Chloe 

Hilts Connie 

Hilts Eadaion 

Makena Eason

Iman George

Nelson Henry

Cecil Levi

Nelson Marika

Christian Martha

Iman Miri

Makena Ranald

Louga Ruairi

Cub No.15 Sophia 


Cubs Arielle

Left: Hilts Celia; right: King Andrew

Makena and Cubs 2 & 3 Eason

Left: Christian Alex; right: Cubs 2 & 3 Anna

Cecil Edward

Left: Louga Arran; right Cecil Audrey

Cub 20 Eva

Left: Cecil Benjamin P.; right: 'Mya' Carina

Elsa Georgia

Left: Cora Eloise; right: Cora George Heriot's Student

Nelson Harris

Left: Cora Julia; right: Hilts Charlotte

Cecil Jack

Left: Iman Jarrad; right: Makena Rufus

Bill Jasmine

Left: King Orla; right: Christian Rory

left: Cecil George Heriots Student; right: Cubs 2 & 3 George Heriots Student

'Elsa and her Cub' Maximilian

Left: Cub 11 George Heriots Student; right: Iman George Heriots Student


Left: Louga George Heriots Student; right: Cub 17 George Heriots Student

Cub No.8 Sofia

Louga, Cora and Nelson Donna MacKenzie, Born Free Supporter  



"We work tirelessly to ensure that all wild animals, whether living in captivity or in the wild, are treated with compassion and respect and are able to live their lives according to their needs. As a leading wildlife charity, we oppose the exploitation of wild animals in captivity and campaign to keep them where they belong – in the wild. We promote Compassionate Conservation to enhance the survival of threatened species in the wild and protect natural habitats while respecting the needs and safeguarding the welfare of individual animals. We seek to have a positive impact on animals in the wild and protect their ecosystems in perpetuity, for their own intrinsic value and for the critical roles they play within the natural world."


We are a global art and environmental education charity with drawing, one of the oldest forms of communication, at its core. Founded by Artist, Jane Lee McCracken, to share her passions for drawing and wildlife, we partner with international wildlife charity Born Free, conservationists, artists, educators and cultural institutions. Through our art, education, exhibition and conservation fundraising projects we give children, communities and wildlife a voice. Watch our video and visit us at:

Support our global projects, help protect wildlife and give the gift of art and wildlife by donating or becoming a member here:

DftP would like to thank Born Free and staff and pupils of George Heriot's School, Edinburgh.