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Inspiring me still

Everyone has a hero in their lives and I first saw mine when I was six. She starred in an unforgettable film called “Born Free”, which touched the heart of a little girl and started the ripple of a lifetime love of animals. 

Seventeen years ago I met my hero – Virginia McKenna – who, together with her late husband, Bill Travers, founded an organisation that pledged to build a new respect for wildlife and challenged facilities keeping them captive to simply do right by their physical and emotional needs. Virginia, Bill, their son, Will, and all in the Born Free Foundation have changed the lives of countless animals and changed the concept of how we, as a species, look at them today.

Nearly two years ago, Ginny came to see our beloved bears in Chengdu, China and every second of her stay saw the “child” she had inspired so many years before just about popping with pride. The days were beautifully sunny and warm, and the bears played dizzy, giddy games in the grass before walking over to greet her, a woman who has done more for them and their kin than she will ever know. 

The night before she left, Ginny slipped a poem under my door. Her words show not only her deep connection and understanding of the bears’ plight and lives today, but give every single one of us a moment to pause and reflect on why we must all persevere.

Sanctuary
The moon I love the most
Is not the gleaming ball
Of iridescent light
Sailing the night sky.

The moon I love the most
Rides on the night-dark chests
Of wild black bears,
Sometimes pure white,
Or ivory or cream.
Its crescent marks these beasts
Sublimely. Tragically.

These are the chosen ones
Victims of man’s callous need
For cures. Bile in a bottle.
Elixir to end his pain.

But for the trapped moon bears
The pain is endless.
Taps turn. Tubes drip.
The cage an iron glove.
Torment is infinite.

Yet here around me,
At the Sanctuary,
There is the sweetest sight.
Bears play and sleep
And shuffle as they will.
They feel the air and smell the rain.
And learn that human-kind
Can be just that.

How humble we should be
To have their trust.
How steadfast we must be
To change men’s hearts
So all the crescent moons,
Imprisoned still,
Can shine once more.

Virginia McKenna OBE 
10 May, 2006

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