“Tonight they roar ‘don’t forget us’!”

A welcome with open arms…

Those millions of YouTube viewers who have watched Christian the lion’s reunion with John Rendall and Anthony (Ace) Bourke will recognise the hesitant stroll that holds Christian back for a second, as if drinking in the presence of his old friends, before the magnetised yearning to rekindle with a familiar past becomes too much to suppress, and snaps him from his slow motion progress towards the pair into a full-on run – climaxing in an open-pawed embrace, re-welcoming them into his life.

 

Whilst I have never previously attended Pride in the Park during its 13 year existence, there was a definite sense of returning to familiarity when I found myself set amongst the Born Free logos and 30th Anniversary brandings.

I hesitated myself slightly, to take a deep breath before entering the room where Zulu dancers added vibrant life to the ornate collection of African carvings, prints and memorabilia that decorated each table.

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The most prominent atmosphere created at this event however, was one of warmth and appreciation. I felt as wanted and welcomed as John Rendall must have felt when Christian came charging towards him in that beautiful video.

A particularly strange analogy when I came face-to-face with Mr. Rendall himself during the course of the evening.

IMG_4600In awe of the company I dined with, and the generosity of the room; the elegance of the attire and hard work that brings together such occasions, I tucked into my meal with all the thoughts and sensations that one feels when welcomed into exciting new surrounds.

The particular unique setting of overlooking the Derby Pride Park Stadium was not lost on me as I chatted to new faces around the table and sat back to enjoy the excitement of the auction, which helped to raise £21,000 on this fantastic evening.

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A leopard never changes its spots…

I mentioned in my previous blog post that I’d donated an original art work to the raffle at the Pride in the Park event – and was delighted to watch this prize awarded to the winning raffle ticket holder.

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While the venue, location and event organisers (Val and Mike) may have been new to me, there are certain things that echo from Born Free event to Born Free event – and one such thing is the kindness of Born Free Founder and CEO Will Travers, who invited my guest and I to join his table during the raffle and ensured we had the opportunity to speak with his mother, Virginia McKenna OBE before the night was over. Her kind words and friendly eyes reassured me that a little belief and a lot of passion can spread a long way.IMG_4624

The enthusiasm, meeting of minds and sheer enjoyment of the guests in attendance is a constant that I’ve seen across the Born Free events that I’ve attended. Organisers Val and Mike did a great job of enthusing the passion and empathy that I’ve come to associate with animal welfare campaigners into an eclectic evening of dinner, dance and donations.

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For the love of lions…

Born Free began with a lion.

The infamous story of George and Joy Adamson’s relationship with Elsa the lioness has been epitomised by the Born Free Foundation logo, which stared out from the thoughtfully constructed decor of the Pride in the Park hall.

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Although the room was littered with images of lions, including the beautiful hand-carved statues that stood proudly on every table – there are two lions in particular whose plight Pride in the Park was highlighting.

Had I followed through with my previous application for a marketing internship at Lilongwe Wildlife Centre, I might have gotten to meet the two lions in question (I made it to the last 4 in the process before having to pull out for financial reasons).

Simba and Bella; victims of the zoo industry, have joined the sanctuary in a move which ends years of loneliness, solitude and unnatural behaviours for the pair. If all goes well, they will be introduced without the restrictions of a fence.

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In a story that demonstrates perfectly the close knit community and everyday heroism of Born Free Foundation supporters and campaigners – television auctioneer James Lewis delighted, amused and moved the crowd with his story of the significant part he played in moving Bella from her torturous life in Romania while his daughter was being born. Naturally, when Arabella grows up to tell the story of where her name came from, I hope she will be greeted with the affectionate reaction that filled the room as James spoke.

“Tonight they roar: ‘don’t forget us’…”

Of course this wonderful evening had a purpose and a very important message.

Amongst the chatter, the laughter, the dancing and the camaraderie, there had to come a sobering voice to remind us of the reality of what has brought this room full of people together.

A poignant speech from Born Free President Will Travers tragically had to include the words: “We have lost over half Africa’s lions in last 30 years.”

I’ll leave you to think that over for a second.

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When an experience truly moves you, when it speaks to your soul and fully penetrates your thoughts, ideas and challenges your memories and beliefs, it never leaves you.

Many times I’ve found my head nostalgically returning to those busy days spent soaking up life at Shamwari Game Reserve – none more so than seeing Shamwari’s Born Free Animal Care Manager Glen Vena for the first time in 6 years.

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I understand entirely Glen’s passion as he spoke fondly of the animals he encounters everyday at the reserve.
When he tearfully recalled the heart ache of losing a lioness. When he described how all the Born Free big cats filled the dusk air with a chorus of roars as he buried a beast who had suffered so much in earlier years but was liberated to a life of comfort in land they truly belonged.
When he described the feeling of driving to work in a Born Free Land Rover and identifying each vocalisation according to which big cat is making it.
When he told the room: “tonight they roar: don’t forget us…”

We won’t.

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