Alexandra's Animals: A Meeting with Virginia McKenna

PUBLISHED: 01:16 18 May 2012 | UPDATED: 21:24 20 February 2013

Alexandra's Animals: A Meeting with Virginia McKenna

Alexandra's Animals: A Meeting with Virginia McKenna

Actress and custodian of the ABC Animal Sanctuary Alexandra Bastedo recently met fellow actress and wildlife campaigner Virginia McKenna. Here, she tells us about the meeting

I had the great good fortune to talk to Virginia McKenna recently at a fundraising evening for her Born Free Foundation and our ABC Animal Sanctuary Charity. And what a remarkable person she is: an international film star (Born Free, Carve her Name with Pride, A Town like Alice); a talented theatre actress (A Little Night Music, The King and I with Yul Brynner); a remarkable poet and finally a wildlife campaigner who has fought and still fights for the welfare of wild animals around the world.

Although our lives are different and the ABC Sanctuary rescues domestic animals we found that we were very much kindred spirits believing in the individuality of each animal whether wild or domestic and their right to our respect. She told me of a book which had been a major influence on her Wild Animals I Have Known by Ernest Thompson Seton, who wrote: We and the beasts are kin. Man has nothing that the animals have not at least a vestige of; the animals have nothing that man does not in some degree share. Since, then, the animals are creatures with wants and feelings differing in degree only from our own, they surely have their rights.

Virginia spoke of Pole Pole, the little elephant that starred in the film An Elephant called Slowly with Virginia and her husband Bill Travers, who ended up at London Zoo. Pole Pole recognised the couple many years later, reaching with her trunk towards them from the confines of her arid cement enclosure. This noble beast was alone without her own kind, in poor health and they were horrified. They immediately set about rescuing her but it was too late and she died shortly afterwards. As a result of their experiences Bill and Virginia formed Zoo Check and the Born Free Foundation helping bears, dolphins, whales, lions, elephants and wild animals round the world.

My experiences with smaller domestic animals pigs, goats, sheep, ponies, donkeys, cats, dogs and even birds that have suffered dreadfully is not dissimilar. They are capable of deep love for animals and people, can suffer grief and many have amazing memories. When we rescue and rehabilitate them it is quite a responsibility to make sure they will be happy in their new home.

After such serious matters I am delighted to be able to say we have re-homed the sheep we took in and their lambs that were born at the sanctuary to a wool and textile smallholding that also has alpacas this should guarantee their longevity which was what we were hoping for. The two barren ewes and one ram are still with us, and would make delightful pets and lawn mowers, but until a home is found they will be staying with us.

Our Open Days are drawing nearer 11am to 4pm, June 16th and June 17th and we are frantically preparing for them. It is almost like putting on an epic! On the Saturday we are having Shetland races (10 ponies and two donkeys will be competing) and the band will play on both days between 2 and 3pm. The outdoor Blessing of the Animals with violin accompaniment will be at noon on the Sunday with the band again playing 2 to 3pm.

There are lots of lovely stalls with a noodle bar, barbecue, and vegetarian food with gorgeous home-made cakes, candy floss, face painting, reflexology, Thomas the Tank Engine on a mini track, and of course the animals all manner of things for children and adults. Celebrities so far confirmed are Virginia McKenna, Lorraine Chase, Liza Goddard, Sue Jameson, Peter Egan, John Marquez (from Doc Martin) and Dan Casey (from Midsomer Murders). Also attending will be the popular Sean George in the guise of Pirate of the Caribbean and our very own Xena, Warrior Princess.

For updates and information please call 07770 667319 or go to

For animal rehoming please call 07967 046068 whether it be cats, pigs, sheep, goats or equines.

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