‘Devastation’ as bronze lion sculpture stolen from Born Free Forever exhibition on the Downs

‘It’s shocking that someone would steal from a charity’

Charity workers have been left ‘devastated’ after a bronze lion statue was stolen from a vital fundraising exhibition on the Downs.

Born Free placed a collection of 25 life-size lions on the Sea Walls section of the Downs in July as part of its free exhibition ‘Born Free Forever’.

There are currently only around 20,000 lions left in the wild, and the project has been raising awareness as well as crucial funding to help protect and boost their dwindling population.

But this week a Bristol resident spotted a disturbed patch of grass where the statue representing a lion named ‘Black’ once stood before raising the alarm.

Police are urging anyone with information to come forward.

Avon and Somerset Police are now investigating the ‘callous’ act, which officers believe happened between Wednesday, July 27 and Thursday 28th July.

Karen Botha, managing director of Born Free, said it was ‘shocking’ that someone would steal from a charity.

She added: “Born Free Forever is a year-long exhibition that has been touring the UK to raise awareness and vital funds for the protection of lions, both in the wild and in captive exploitation.

“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.”

The exhibition was launched in memory of the charity’s founder, the late Bill Travers MBE, in what would have been his 100th year.

Adele Mills, head of fundraising at Born Free, said: “It is a devastating and cruel parallel that an exhibition highlighting the threats to lions and their catastrophic decline in the wild should be targeted in such a manner.

“The hugely popular Born Free Forever exhibition is a key event for 2022, our ‘Year of the Lion’. It has only been in Bristol for a few weeks and has been enjoyed by thousands of locals.”

Not only has the theft damaged the exhibition but Black, the lion stolen, is a key part of the story of Born Free.

The real ‘Black’ was saved from life in a rusty circus trailer in Bulgaria where wild mammals in circuses had recently been banned.

With nowhere else for him and his brother Jora to go, in 2015 the two lions were rescued and brought ‘home’ to Africa and the charity’s Big Cat sanctuary at Shamwari.

Anyone with any information regarding the missing lion statue is being asked to contact the police on 101, quoting the crime number AS-20220729-0258.