Huge pride of life-size bronze lions installed in Bristol by the Born Free charity

A powerful exhibition featuring sculptures of a pride of lions has come to Bristol.

It's to raise awareness about the catastrophic plight facing the world’s wild lion population and fight for their long-term survival.

Entitled 'Born Free Forever', the exhibit features 25 life-size bronze sculptures of lions.

Each represents a real-life lion, highlighting the grave threats facing big cats both in captivity and in the wild.

Its centerpiece is the iconic Elsa the lioness on top of a 4x4, as depicted in the 1966 film Born Free - about the real-life couple Joy and George Adamson who raised Elsa, an orphaned lion cub, and released her in Kenya.

Virginia McKenna who played Joy in 'Born Free' Credit: Born Free

When the film was made in 1960s, there were around 200,000 lions in the wild. There are now only 20,000 remaining, a decline which, if not halted, could see them becoming extinct across much of their wild range within 30 years.

The pride is being opened today (July 4) on The Downs by wild animal charity Born Free's Ian Redmond OBE, actor Dan Richardson, as well as Cllr Kye Dudd from Bristol City Council.

For Gloucestershire-based Ian Redmond, a world-renowned conservationist, the exhibition brings a vital message about the future of the species to the people of the South West.

Ian, the senior wildlife consultant for Born Free, said: “This is such an impressive work of art. When I first visited it in London and saw how the public immediately interacted with each lion in different ways, it was clear how it inspires wonder at their magnificence, but concern for their conservation.

The installation on The Downs Credit: Born Free

"I am so glad it has come to Bristol, where so many wildlife documentaries are made, so that the caring public learn about Born Free’s ‘Year of the Lion’, and support our effective projects to rescue lions from appalling captivity, and help communities in Africa co-exist with this important apex predator, critical for the health of globally important ecosystems.”

All the sculptures link to Born Free’s history and its 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 living at a sanctuary in South Africa.

Credit: Born Free

Other members of the 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.

And Cecil, the lion whose barbaric killing by an American trophy hunter in Zimbabwe in 2015, sparked international outrage.

Each of the statues can be bought, with all the funds supporting Born Free’s conservation work.

The free exhibit, the largest of its kind in the UK, will remain in Bristol for the next three months.