Sending animals back into the wild from the protected confines of a zoo is one of the toughest tasks that a conservationist can undertake. But that is just what a team of conservationists is attempting. They are rewilding elephants on a scale rarely done.
Born and reared in a zoo in Kent, the elephant herd will travel 4,500 miles (7,000 km) across a whole continent to Kenya. They will be reintroduced to the forests in an operation that has never been done before.
Rewilding Elephants Will Be Challenging As They Were Bred In Captivity
12 of the 13 elephants were born and bred in captivity in Kent. They will undertake the 7,000 miles journey by plane. The journey will take them from Howletts Wild Animals Park, situated near Canterbury to the forests of southern Kenya.
The mammoth task of rewilding elephants has been undertaken jointly by the Foundation, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, and the Kenyan Wildlife Service. Carrie Johnson, the prime minister’s wife, is an employee at The Aspinall Foundation. Damian Aspinall, the chairman of the Foundation said that this was the biggest task that they have ever undertaken.
The herd includes three calves and has lived all their lives inside an enclosure inside the park which is near Canterbury. Mr. Aspinall said that they belong to the wild though they seemed happy in Canterbury. Ben Okita, ecologist and the director in charge of policy, conservation, and planning at Save the Elephants was cautious. He said that rewilding elephants in the past had not been too successful.
But he said that it would be wrong to prejudge the project of rewilding elephants without getting into the full details. Many factors need to be weighed: how the elephants integrate with other elephant herds and wild animals, and more importantly how it manages to adjust to human habitation, Dr. Okita said. He is also the co-chairman of the specialist group on African Elephants, at IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature.
Travel logistics will be the biggest hurdle in rewilding elephants into the wild. The travel arrangement is yet to be confirmed, but the elephants will be fully conscious when they are taken in aircraft fitted with special transportation crates. They will be assisted by experts from South Africa experienced in the transportation of elephants. Both the forest and the savannah elephant of Africa are facing extinction according to the findings of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature.
Image Featured: DAVID ROLFEE / THE ASPINALL FOUNDATION