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"The academic panel concluded that there appears to be little evidence to demonstrate that the welfare of animals kept in travelling circuses is any better or worse than that of animals kept in other captive environments" - Executive Summary of the DEFRA Circus Working Group 2007

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Friday, 19 April 2013

Virginia McKenna and the Forgotten Story of "Born Free"

Cover of "Born Free"
Cover of Born Free
 The 18th of April bore witness to the televising of perhaps one of the most stunning examples of animal rights double standards that Rouster has seen for quite a while.
A new award ceremony known as the "British Animals Honours" bestowed perhaps their most prestigious award on Virginia McKenna for "Outstanding Contribution". Presenter, Paul O'Grady, who regularly books trained animals - both domestic and wild - for his television show "The Paul O'Grady Show", told the audience and viewers that "Every one of our winners deserves our admiration, but none more so than our final honour". Virginia McKenna is known to the majority of the general public as a loveable old movie actress who now dedicates most of her time to supposedly saving animals through her Born Free Foundation. McKenna's radical stance against both animal circuses and zoos is well-known. She has never worried about aligning herself with organizations like PETA* (who were declared a terrorist threat by USDA in 2009), the HSUS and others in the hugely controversial case against Ringling Brothers Barnum and Bailey Circus.

On several occasions, McKenna has declared that she wants all animals to be free from captivity. This is in the face of the fact that several wild animals are critically endangered in the wild with many facing immediate extinction and McKenna's own organization running sanctuaries that keep captive animals. Nevertheless, she raises millions by using images of exotic wild animals, often lions that can be immediately associated the film title that inspired the name of her "Born Free Foundation", and lives a very comfortable life for a film actress whose acting career has been, at best, very sporadic since the 1960s.

McKenna and her deceased actor husband, Bill Travers, apparently got their taste for animal rights activism and moved away from Hollywood after playing the lead roles in  films such as  and of course the infamous "Born Free".

"Born Free" was based on the true story of Joy Adamson and her husband, George, who raised a lion cub, Elsa, before returning her to the wild. The true story of Born Free and it's not-so-happy-ending can be read here. Nevertheless, McKenna and Travers became active animal rights campaigners and regularly targeted zoos and circuses in their mission to stop animals living in captivity. What many often neglect to mention is the plight of the lions used in the "Born Free" film. The film company had no further use for the lions and no one would take them on. The concern was they could not be returned to the wild and they would be killed for their skins. As it turned out most of the lions were re -homed in zoos, but not all. McKenna and Travis were reportedly offered the lions for a nominal amount of money, which they refused. They would later claim - as it is stated in McKenna's brief bio at the Animal Honours ceremony - that seeing the lions in zoos after filming convinced them to start their "conservation" work. In desperation the remaining lions were sold to regular future target of McKenna's campaigning, Jimmy Chipperfield, for shocking £10 a piece and the lions became part of his newly formed safari parks. McKenna and Travis became active opponents of the safari park concept during those early years.**

As for the ceremony that awarded McKenna their first award for a person who has "done it all" Rouster's proverbial jaw hit the ground at the hypocrisy on show. It is worth mentioning that McKenna was not just a guest at the ceremony but part of a judging panel of supposed experts, which generally consisted of celebrities rather than actual animal experts. She applauded a show that exhibited pet animals not used to large audiences and studio lighting, and were visibly confused and stressed. The awards included those to ceremonial horses, which undertake very strict training regimes.  To quote Wikipedia, "The ceremony also featured one-off performances from the National Theatre's production of War Horse, a dancing dog troupe led by Kennel Club trainer Gina Pink and a showpiece by the South Wales Police Dog Section." All of this was approved by celebrities that actively run or support organizations that would normally see animal usage as being tantamount to slavery.

Rouster has a little award of our own to bestow upon the UK's First Lady of animal rights activism. Virginia McKenna was voted the number one most hypocritical anti-animal circus celebrity when "Astley's Legacy" conducted a poll in 2011. This is based on the simple fact that she made her name appearing in feature films that used trained wild animals, including "Ring of Bright Water", "An Elephant called Slowly" and, of course, "Born Free". One might want to ask where the trained elephant used in "An Elephant called Slowly" was obtained...

*Brian May, who presented the award to McKenna, along with actress Anita Dobson, was named by O'Grady as being a supporter of PETA. Interestingly May is also the vice president of the RSPCA. 

**Source "My Wild Life", Jimmy Chipperfield

Peta vs Animals

Astley's Legacy was formed to counter the misinformation and propaganda spread by animal rights activists. As well as fighting the corner for circus animals and their trainers, we are here to promote and celebrate the cultural heritage of circus in general, and especially in the country of its birth - Great Britain. For more information please see our Facebook group
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