An exhibition of more than 20 life-sized bronze lions is being unveiled in Exhibition Park in Newcastle today.
The Born Free Forever exhibition is part of a year-long campaign to highlight the plight of lions both in the wild and in captivity. The free exhibition is the largest of its kind in the UK and will remain in Newcastle until 30th June 2022.
'Born Free' film star and co-founder of the international wildlife charity of the same name, Virginia McKenna OBE, will be opening the exhibit alongside Junior Ambassador, 10-year-old Thea Caine from Tyne and Wear
Virginia said: “There are 7.8 billion people on Earth, and we now have to decide, are we prepared to share our planet with the shockingly few wild lions that remain or not?"
Wild lions could be extinct in less than 30 years as their numbers have declined from an estimated 200,000 a century ago to just 20,000 today.
Gillie and Marc, who created the sculptures said: "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."
Each sculpture in the exhibit tells a tale of a real lion in history that has faced challenges at the hands of humans.
The money raised from the exhibition will be used to help protect wild lions.
The exhibition is also in memory of Houghton-le-Spring-born wildlife trail-blazer Bill Travers MBE, Virginia's husband, co-star and co-founder of the charity.
Bill would have turned 100 this year.
Virginia said: “I am deeply moved to be bringing our beautiful lion exhibition Born Free Forever to the Northeast, the region where my beloved husband Bill was born and raised.
"He always remembered his roots, his loyalty and affection for the community never dimmed, and I know the people here will share his desire to save the majestic lion."
By Tyne Tees