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13 Elephants From Animal Park Will Travel To Africa In World-First Rewilding Project

by : Hannah Smith on : 06 Jul 2021 00:10
PA Images

A herd of elephants bred in captivity are set to be transported to Africa in the world’s largest-ever rewilding project.

If successful, it will be the first time an entire herd has ever been released into its natural habitat, with the 13 elephants – including 3 calves – set to travel a massive 7,000km from the UK, where they’ve been raised, to their ‘ancestral homeland’ of Kenya.

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The epic project has been organised by British wildlife conservation charity The Aspinall Foundation, who are working alongside The Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and the Kenya Wildlife Service to get everything in place for the herd’s journey and eventual release.

13 elephants will be released to their natural habitat in Kenya (The Aspinall Foundation)The Aspinall Foundation

The elephants are currently located in Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent, and moving them is going to involve a lot of heavy lifting. According to The Aspinall Foundation, the animals all together weigh a ridiculous 25 tonnes, and it’s not like you can just strap them into a seat, either.

Of course, the project doesn’t come without its challenges. With these elephants having spent their entire lives in captivity, conservationists say that there are a lot of unknowns when it comes to how the herd will adapt to its new environment and the various threats that come with it.

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Ultimately, though, the wildlife charities believe it’s worth it to prove that endangered species can be successfully rewilded into their natural environments. The Aspinall Foundation hopes that the project will discourage zoos from trading elephants, and instead push them to commit to developing rewilding projects of their own, so that more elephants and other animals can be reintroduced to their natural habitats in the future.

There are encouraging signs, too: last year, it was reported that the elephant population in Kenya had doubled since 1989, thanks to successful anti-poaching efforts in the region.

Kenya's elephant population has doubled since the 1980s (PA Images)PA Images

‘As with any conservation project of this magnitude, there are obviously big risks, but we consider them well worth it to get these magnificent elephants back into the wild where they belong,’ said Damian Aspinall, chairman of The Aspinall Foundation. ‘If this is successful, I would love to see elephants held in captivity all over the world being rewilded too.’

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The Aspinall Foundation is currently running a fundraiser to help finance the project, and Aspinall has urged the public to donate in support of the rewilding and the chance to ‘be part of conservation history, helping to restore an iconic species to its ancestral homeland.’

There’s no date set yet for the herd’s big adventure, but hopefully it’s not too long before the elephants can return to their natural home, where they’ll be able to live ‘wild and free as nature intended.’

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Hannah Smith

Hannah Smith is a London-based journalist at UNILAD. After studying History at UCL she worked for print publications on both sides of the pond, including spells at Harper's Magazine and The Times, before graduating with an MA in Newspaper Journalism from City, University of London.

Topics: Animals, conservation, elephants, Kenya