Returning animals to the wild from a zoo’s sanctuary is one of the most difficult tasks a conservationist can undertake. But that’s just what a group of conservationists are trying. They are rewilding the elephants on a scale rarely done.
Born and raised in a zoo in Kent, the herd will travel 4,500 miles (7,000 km) across the continent to Kenya. They will be reintroducing the forests in an operation that has never been done before.
Rewilding elephants will be challenged when they are kept in captivity
12 of the 13 elephants were born and bred in captivity in Kent. They will make the 7,000-mile journey by plane. The journey will take them from Howletts Wildlife Park, located near Canterbury, to the forests of southern Kenya.
The task of rewinding the mammoth was jointly carried out by the Foundation, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Kenya Wildlife Service. Carrie Johnson, the prime minister’s wife, is an employee of the Aspinall Foundation. Damian Aspinall, the Foundation’s president, says it’s the biggest mission they’ve ever taken on.
The herd consists of three calves and has lived all their lives inside an enclosure inside a park near Canterbury. Mr Aspinall said they belong in the wild, although they appeared to be happy in Canterbury. Ben Okita, ecologist and director of policy, conservation and planning at Save the Elephant, was cautious. He said that rewilding elephants had not been so successful.
But he said it would be wrong to prejudice the project to rewilding elephants without going into full details. Many factors need to be considered: how the elephants integrate with other elephant herds and wild animals, and more importantly, how it manages to adjust to human habitats, Dr Okita said. He is also co-chair of the expert group on African Elephants at IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Tourism logistics will be the biggest obstacle in returning elephants to the wild. The travel arrangement is yet to be confirmed, but the elephants will be fully conscious once they are taken in a plane fitted with special transport crates.
They will be supported by experts from South Africa with experience in transporting elephants. According to the findings of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, both the forests and savannahs of African elephants are facing extinction.