Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna began producing wildlife films, including ‘An Elephant Called Slowly’ in 1969. Set in Kenya, it featured Pole Pole (‘Po-lee Po-lee’), an elephant calf. Captured from the wild as a gift from the Kenyan Government to London Zoo, she was exported after the filming, despite Bill and Virginia’s efforts to have her returned to the wild.
In 1982 they visited Pole Pole at London Zoo. Lonely and unpredictable, Pole Pole paced her barren enclosure, but even in her distress she remembered them. They called her name. She stopped, turned and came to them, her trunk outstretched, straining to touch their reaching hands. It was a heart-breaking, life-changing moment for Bill and Virginia. In 1983, Pole Pole was put down at the Zoo after a failed attempt to move her to another facility. She was just 16 years old. Determined her short life would not be in vain, Bill, Virginia and their eldest son, Will, launched Zoo Check in March 1984 – the charity that evolved into the Born Free Foundation.