Kenya voices 'concern' over plans to fly 13 elephants to the country

It’s an expensive affair’: Kenya voices ‘concern’ over plans to fly 13 elephants to the country from a Kent zoo for ‘world-first’ rewilding project led by charity fronted by Carrie Johnson

  • The Aspinall Foundation, which is fronted by Mrs Johnson, said it plans to transport a total of thirteen elephants to Kenya from Kent zoo
  • The charity has said the move is a ‘ground-breaking step’ for conservation
  • But Kenya’s Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife said it was concerned with media reports about what the charity has described as first rewilding project of its kind

Kenya voiced concern on Wednesday over plans by Carrie Johnson’s animal charity to fly a herd of elephants from a Kent wildlife park to the country in a ‘world first’ rewilding project.   

The Aspinall Foundation, which is fronted by Mrs Johnson, said it plans to transport a total of thirteen elephants – weighing 25 tonnes – more than 4,000 miles on a Boeing 747 to a secret location in Kenya in a ‘ground-breaking step for this country and the conservation movement’.   

The charity said it would work with anti-poaching teams to help ensure the long-term survival of the 13 animals – including three babies – once they reach one of two sites under consideration in southern Kenya.

But Kenya’s Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife said it ‘noted with concern’ the reports in the British media about what the charity has described as the first rewilding project of its kind.

‘The ministry wants to state that neither them nor the Kenya Wildlife Service have been contacted or consulted on this matter,’ the ministry said.

‘Relocation and rehabilitation of an animal from a zoo is not easy and is an expensive affair.’

The Aspinall Foundation (chairman of the foundation Damian Aspinall with Carrie Johnson) said it will transport the elephants to a secret location in Kenya in a ‘ground-breaking step for this country and the conservation movement’

But Kenya’s Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife said it ‘noted with concern’ the reports in the British media about what the charity has described as the first rewilding project of its kind. Pictured: Elephants at Howletts Wild Animal Park

A ministry official said that the Kenyan authorities would be guided by specific regulations drawn up by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on the movement of animals.

The IUCN warned in March that poaching and habitat destruction, particularly due to land conversion for agriculture, was devastating elephant numbers across Africa.

The population of African savanna elephants shrank by at least 60 percent in the last half century, prompting their reclassification as ‘endangered’ in the latest update to the IUCN’s ‘Red List’ of threatened species.

The Aspinall Foundation said the operation was planned for next year and that it would be the first time a breeding herd of elephants will have been rewilded.

The herd of elephants, which includes three calves and a 34-year-old matriarch, currently live on an eight-acre enclosure at Howletts Wild Animal Park, near Canterbury, in Kent. 

The Aspinall Foundation is dedicated to protecting endangered species and returning captive animals to the wild. Pictured: Damian Aspinall with wife Victoria Fisher

But after months of organising, including purchasing purpose-made crates to transport the animals, the elephants are set to Kenya where they will be part of a conservation project. 

They will spend six months being observed by conservationists before they are released back into the wild to roam free as part of a project that is being run with the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. 

Damian Aspinall, chairman of The Aspinall Foundation, told the Daily Telegraph: ‘This is an incredibly exciting project and a genuine world-first. As with any conservation project of this magnitude, there are obviously big risks, but we consider them well worth it to get these magnificent beasts back into the wild where they belong.

‘By supporting the project, members of the public will be part of conservation history, helping to restore an iconic species to its ancestral homeland.

‘If this is successful, I would love to see elephants held in captivity all over the world be rewilded too.’ 

The elephants, which includes three calves and a 34-year-old matriarch, will spend six months being observed by conservationists before they are released back into the wild

During the 1980s, an attempt was made to transfer an African elephant from London Zoo to Whipsnade.

However the London Zoo elephant was kept in its travelling enclosure for too long and collapsed and later died.

The Aspinall Foundation, which was founded in 1984, now hope the 13 elephants will be able to start a new life in the wilds of Africa in ‘an unprecedented project’.

The charity believes no elephant should be held in captivity and aims to ensure all those in its parks are returned to their homelands. 

In a piece for The Sun, Ms Johnson and Mr Aspinall wrote: ‘It will be a ground-breaking step for this country and for the conservation movement.

‘We strongly believe this is the right future for them, and other wildlife organisations are increasingly sharing our view.

‘Life in Kent is pretty good for these elephants, all things considered. But Africa is where they belong.’

Angela Sheldrick, CEO of the Sheldrick Trust, told The Guardian: ‘Since the 1970s we have been helping elephants. 

The project by the Aspinall Foundation is also being run with the Kenya Wildlife Service and the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. Pictured: Elephants walking in their enclosure at Howletts Wild Animal Park

‘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. 

‘We look forward to offering that 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.’ 

Mrs Johnson’s fondness for elephants was recently observed when she took her son Wilfred to see the wooden elephants in Green Park. The statues were put there to support charities for the giant animals abroad.        

Earlier this year, Ms Johnson, who is also a patron of the Conservative Animal Welfare Foundation, was appointed head of communications for the Aspinall Foundation.

Speaking of her appointment, Mr Aspinall said: ‘Carrie takes up her role at an exciting time for the foundation and we are delighted to have someone of her calibre on the team.

‘She is a passionate champion for wildlife and conservation, whose energy and expertise will be a huge asset to us.’

The Aspinall Foundation is dedicated to protecting endangered species and reintroducing animals born in the UK or held in captivity abroad back to the wild. 

The charity also funds and manages animal protection projects in Congo, Gabon, Java and Madagascar, as well as supporting schemes in India and Cambodia. 

They have so far released eight black rhino, 135 primates, 11 European bison, and more than 70 western lowland gorillas back into the wild. 

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