How elephant from Kenya inspired foundation of global charity

In March 1984, a British couple and their son founded Born Free Foundation, a wildlife charity that campaigns to "Keep Wildlife in the Wild." 37-years-later, the charity reported an income of £5.9million (Sh851m), thanks to an elephant known as Pole Pole.

1969: Bill and Virginia with Pole Pole during filming in Kenya. (Image courtesy; Born Free Foundation)

In March 1984, a British couple and their son founded Born Free Foundation, a wildlife charity that campaigns to "Keep Wildlife in the Wild." 37-years-later, the charity reported an income of £5.9million (Sh851m), all thanks to an elephant known as Pole Pole.

The couple, the late Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna (alive) started out as actors. The two gained fame and global recognition in 1966 after the production of Born Free, a film inspired by a true story that earned the two an Oscar.

Born Free, regarded as an all-time classic was about the story of Joy and George Adamson based in Kenya, who raised an orphaned lion cub, Elsa, to adulthood before releasing her back into the wilderness.

The couple also featured in another movie known as "An Elephant Called Slowly" in 1969. In the film, Bill and Virginia are invited by a naturalist friend to take care of his home in Kenya while he is away, only for them to adopt three orphan elephants.

The elephants; Two large ones were known as Kadengi and Jaspar, while the smallest one pole pole (Kiswahili for "Slowly Slowly").

Before the film, Pole Pole was discovered in a yard in Nairobi by the couple in the company of David and Daphne Sheldrick. They were granted to use her in the film before she was scheduled to be transported to the London Zoo as a gift from Kenya.

In 1982 the couple visited Pole Pole at the London Zoo. To their shock, they saw a lonely and distressed elephant. A year later, at only 16-years-old Pole Pole was put down by the Zoo after a failed attempt to move her to another facility.

The tragic ending of Pole Pole's life inspired the establishment Zoo Check – the charity that has evolved into Born Free. Today, their son Will Travers OBE is Born Free's Executive President, and 90-year-old Virginia McKenna OBE is a Trustee.

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