13 Elephants From the UK To Be Rewilded Back To Kenya, In A ‘World First’

Kent Online

Elephants are incredibly intelligent creatures that are also known for their long migratory patterns. Many times, they walk long distances across the deserts and savannahs to get to their locations, and from memory at that.

But for 13 amazing elephants that have been in captivity for years, they will be heading back to their “homeland” in what some wildlife conservationists are labeling the world’s first try at “rewilding” an entire herd of pachyderms.

The 13 African elephants have been living in Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent, England, and all 25 tons of them – their collective weight – will be flown back to Kenya via airplane, all of 4,349 miles.

The team behind this mammoth plan are many of the best and most experienced wild life relocation experts, The Aspinall Foundation which is the charity that runs the zoo, are working with the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Kenyan Wildlife Service in order to make their plan is successful.

According to a statement on their website, The Aspinall Foundation shares, “This is the first time that a herd of elephants has ever been rewilded anywhere in the world. No elephant rewilding project of this scale has ever been attempted before.”

They also explain that the elephants have been living in the zoo in an 8-hectre enclosure, but they believe that this shouldn’t be the case. They share, “Although they are receiving the best care possible, the Aspinall Foundation believes that these animals belong in the wild, and that no elephants belong in captivity.”

According to the Howletts’ zoo administration, many exotic animals that are bred in captivity and have been living in safety within their zoo have generated enough revenue, enough in fact to ensure that the animals or their descendants can be reintroduced into the wild using their ‘Back to the Wild’ program.

Since they first begin, the program has seen a number of successful animals born at the Kent parks and reintroduced back to their natural homelands or habitats. Some of the other animals they’ve done this with are Javan langurs and gibbons, Western lowland gorillas, clouded leopards, European bison and black rhino. They are not only flourishing in their natural habitats, but they are breeding successfully as well.

Meanwhile, for the last 50 years, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya has been protecting wild animals while helping injured ones as well, lovingly nursing them back to health so they can be reintroduced into Kenya’s wilds.

When these 13 elephants bred in captivity in the UK finally land in Kenya after making the arduous 7,000-kilometer trek, it will be considered the ‘longest and largest elephant release effort’ in the history of the world.


A Humongous Effort

Despite the amount of time, money, and effort that is going into making the animals’ special crates, constant elephant monitoring, putting them onto the lorries and finally loading them into the cargo aircrafts, those in charge of the rewiliding efforts share that they don’t believe there’s any other way to go about it.

According to the wife of the UK’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Carrie Johnson, who also happens to be the communications director for the Aspinall Foundation, wrote in the media publication The Sun, “After years of weighing up the benefits and the risks, we at the Aspinall Foundation have decided on an unprecedented project and a real world first.”

She added, “This is the first time a breeding herd of elephants has ever been re-wilded.”

To add to that, founder of the Aspinall foundation, Damian Aspinall, told BBC Radio Kent, “Elephants don’t do well in captivity. Hardly any are born. Females live to about half their natural life. Over half the elephants in captivity are obese. They suffer foot problems, skin problems, [and] mental distress.”

“I think we would have done something good in the world if we can achieve this. Once they get out there, they are going to be so happy, wandering about, meeting other wild elephants, breeding,” he explained.

The specially-designed 747 that will be used to fly the 13 elephants, which include three calves, back to Kenya, has been adorably named the “Dumbo jet.”

CEO of the Sheldrick Trust, Angela Sheldrick, said, “Since the 1970s we have been helping elephants. Providing a wild future to more than 260 rescued orphans and operating extensive protection projects to ensure they, their wild-born babies, and their wild kin are best protected throughout their lives.”

She also said, “We look forward to offering the same opportunity to these 13 elephants when they step foot on African soil, home where they belong and able to live wild and free as nature intended.”

Meanwhile, the Aspinall Foundation also adds, “Rewilding captive elephants in this way will demonstrate what can be done to ensure elephants really thrive. This will be the first time ever that a herd of elephants have been returned to Africa from Europe. We hope the spin-off effect will be that zoos no longer breed or trade in elephants globally.”


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