Bronze lion stolen from Born Free exhibition on the Downs in Bristol

A 190kg bronze lion statue installed as part of a charity exhibition on the Downs in Bristol has been stolen. Born Free Foundation commissioned 25 of the life-size figures to commemorate what would have been the centenary of their founder Bill Travers, declaring 2022 the ‘Year of the Lion’.

These have been touring Britain to raise awareness of and funds for the charity, and they were nailed to the ground off Circular Road in Clifton. However, one of their number named Black went missing one night last week, and the international wildlife charity is now appealing for help from Bristol residents in hope of recovering the sculpture.

A visitor to the attraction noticed a patch of disturbed grass where the statue had been, informing Born Free who called the police. Officers from Avon and Somerset Police are now investigating the theft, thought to have taken place between July 27 and 28.

Read more: Picture gallery shows majestic lions in their new Bristol home

They believe that multiple people were likely involved in removing the statue, which was probably taken away in a “large vehicle”. A police spokesperson said: “The sculpture was taken from the exhibition at the Sea Walls section of the Downs, off Circular Road, between an unknown time on Wednesday 27 July and 8.30pm on Thursday 28 July.

“The sculpture weighs 190kg and was nailed into the ground with metal pegs. Officers believe the suspect would have had a large vehicle and multiple helpers to lift the statue.”

Adele Mills, Born Free charity’s head of fundraising, called the crime “a devastating and cruel parallel” to the poaching of lions from the wild. “[Born Free Forever] has only been in Bristol for a few weeks and has been enjoyed by thousands of locals,” she added.

Black the lion was stolen from the Born Free Forever exhibition on the Downs, Clifton overnight
Black the lion was stolen from the Born Free Forever exhibition on the Downs, Clifton overnight
(Image: Born Free Foundation)

“Not only has this theft damaged the exhibition but Black, the lion stolen, is a key part of the story of Born Free.” Black the lion was saved from a rusty circus trailer in Bulgaria during 2015, when the country’s government banned wild mammals in circuses. Born Free subsequently brought Black and his brother Jora to their big cat sanctuary at Shamwari, South Africa.

“The theft of Black from our exhibition means his story is missing from our ‘Year of the Lion’,” said Adele. “That is the saddest part of all.”

Managing director Karen Botha urged anyone with information regarding the missing lion statue to contact Avon and Somerset Police on 101, quoting the crime number AS-20220729-0258. “It is shocking that someone would take the opportunity to steal from a charity,” she said.

“The loss of this statue will be keenly felt by the charity and impact on the work we are able to do in the field.” Born Free reports that there are currently around twenty thousand lions left in the wild – a decline of more than 40 per cent since the 1990s due to poaching and habitat loss.

They are now listed as vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. British actor, screenwriter and director Bill Travers was made an MBE for his “gallant and distinguished service” with Army special forces during the Second World War.

In 1966 he starred in the movie Born Free, about a couple who rehabilitate a captive lioness and release her into the wild. The experience inspired him to found the Born Free Foundation charity, which now campaigns against captive and persecuted wildlife worldwide.

Travers died of a coronary thrombosis in his sleep in 1994, aged 72 and the Forever Lions fund was established in his memory. Anyone wishing to support it can do so through the charity’s website.

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