Issue 4 (November 2008) Virginia McKenna OBE is best known for playing conservationist Joy Adamson in the classic movie Born Free. But the BAFTA award-winning actress is herself no stranger to the African bush. And, as she explained to Mike Unwin, Zambia’s Luangwa Valley provided one of her most thrilling encounters.
“We were walking between the bush and the river when an enormous hippo emerged a few yards ahead, obviously intent on returning to the water,” recalls McKenna. “And we were in the way!”
Thankfully for cinemagoers, the actress survived to tell the tale: “The hippo huffed and puffed across us and finally plunged into the water – to our relief, as you can imagine!” And, what’s more, it didn’t put her off Zambia: her subsequent visits with Norman Carr and David Shepherd are among her happiest memories. “A beautiful country and warm, welcoming people,” she reflects fondly.
Today McKenna directs most of her energies towards the Born Free Foundation, the international wildlife charity that she founded with husband Bill Travers in 1991. So it is perhaps fitting that Zambia is home to the foundation’s inspiring Lunga Luswishi Wildlife Project. This refuge has provided a haven for orphaned or injured vervet monkeys and yellow baboons since 2002, rehabilitating and returning them to the wild where possible, and otherwise providing lifelong care at the Munda Wanga Wildlife Sanctuary in Lusaka.
Find out more about the Born Free Foundation and its work in Zambia at www.bornfree.org.uk