Beautiful beasts: Why The Rolling Stones and A-list actors are on a mission to save lions

Launching on World Lion Day, the global Tusk Lion Trail brings safari to the streets, says Sarah Marshall.

Ronnie Wood with his Tusk lion sculpture (Tusk/PA)
Ronnie Wood with his Tusk lion sculpture (Tusk/PA)

On a mission to become kings of an urban jungle, prides of eye-catching lions have descended on the streets and parks of several iconic locations as part of a global art installation in support of conservation.

To coincide with World Lion Day, 45 life-sized lion sculptures have been unleashed across the world in London Edinburgh, Bristol, The Hamptons – New York Sydney, Wellington and Nairobi.

Commissioned by charity Tusk Trust and curator Chris Westbrook, with sponsorship from various supporters, each one has been designed and decorated by a celebrity or artist to express their passion for the charismatic predators. Noel Fielding Matt Horne and artist Gavin Turk are a few of the big names involved.

Noel Fielding with his lion in his back garden (Joseph Lynn/PA)

Along with looking pretty, the works of art also aim to raise awareness of the terrifying decline of lions in the wild. More than 50% of the species has disappeared in the past 25 years, and there are now fewer lions left in the wild than rhinos.

For the next few months, wildlife fans can track down the animals by scanning QR codes on sculptures as part of A Lion Trail. On November 9, the cats will be auctioned at Bonhams in London, with funds raised used to support the work of the Tusk and its partners.

Currently roaring into action, here are a few of the A-listers and their fame-worthy felines.

Actor John Cleese

John and Jen Cleese in the studio (Tusk/PA)

The actor and comedian used his lion to communicate several messages. While the multi-coloured mane signifies a rainbow of “hope, dreams and magic”, the lotus flower “represents rebirth and new beginnings”. The fish in the cat’s mouth is a reference to “the love of his life”, his wife Jennifer Wade – although we wonder if its name could be Wanda?

Actor and presenter Noel Fielding

(Joseph Lynn/PA)

The Mighty Boosh star once admitted his most hated body part was his hands which resemble “lion’s paws”. But he’s still happy to brush whiskers with the animal, which became a focus for his attention during a break in the run-up to filming of the Great British Bake Off.

Photographer David Yarrow

Lions have always been a favourite subject for this fine art photographer and conservationist. In 2019, he raised money for charity by superimposing the image of a South African lion onto a backdrop of Pride Rock in Kenya’s Borana Conservancy – made famous by Disney’s The Lion King.

Speaking about his lion for the trail, he says: “If I could dress the sculpture in a patchwork quilt of my leading images of male lions it could serve as a novel celebration of their regal beauty.”

Musician Ronnie Wood

Ronnie Wood and his lion, Not Lying Lion (Tusk/PA)

A committed supporter of Tusk, the Rolling Stone member has been supporting the charity since the early nineties. But creating a lion was particularly special.

“About 15 years ago I was in Kenya and took part in a lion-tagging exercise,” he says, describing one of his first close-up encounters with the species. “They anaesthetised this huge animal and I held its paw: one of the most beautiful experiences of my life.”

Fashion designer Donna Karan

Fashion designer Donna Karan with her lion in The Hamptons (Tusk/PA)

“My love for Africa is beyond anything. I’ve been travelling there for over 20 years. For me it’s the people; they are so humbling. There’s a picture of me trying to paint someone in Ethiopia and I couldn’t believe that I couldn’t do it. Mind you, I couldn’t paint a lion for the Tusk Lion Trail, which is why I draped it.”

More information about the event, co-sponsored by DHL ISPS Handa the African Community and Conservation Foundation, can be found here at tuskliontrail.com

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