Carrie Johnson is both the wife of the Prime Minister of the UK and the head of public relations for the Aspinall Foundation. She issued a press release recently stating that the foundation will be working with the Kenya Wildlife Service on a “world first to re-world an entire breeding herd of 13 African elephants, including three calves.”
The elephants currently live in an eight-acre enclosure at Howletts Wild Animal Park in Kent. Howletts have a good track record of raising animals in captivity in the UK and placing them in the wild as is the case with a 30-stone gorilla who was born and raised in the Kent countryside and who was shipped out to equatorial forest in central Africa. It actually worked which surprises me. It is a case of genuine conservation by a private zoo and it is not their only example. I’m very sceptical about private zoos but this is one of those rare examples where captive animals have made the transition from captivity to the wild successfully. I suspect that because of these past successes the Aspinall Foundation believe that they can do it again but on a bigger scale with 13 elephants.
Unfortunately, Carrie Johnson and her colleagues have been snubbed or at least their spirits have been dampened by the apparent attitude of Kenya’s Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife who said there relocating and rehabilitating animals from a zoo was ‘not easy’. They expressed a concern that neither it nor the Kenya Wildlife Service had been contacted capitals. However, the Aspinall foundation said that they had been in contact with the service at a senior level since last November.
Their plan has been in the making for many years and they’ve weighed up the risks and benefits. They say that the average lifespan of an elephant in captivity is 16.9 years but 56 years in a Kenyan park. And therefore, the benefits outweigh the detriments.
A couple of British professors, Keith Sommerville of the University of Kent’s Durrell Institute of Conservation and Ecology and Adam Hart at the University of Gloucestershire are both against the project. Professor Keith Sommerville states that the elephants, once transported into the wild in Kenya, were likely to die. While Adam Hart said that the project was “ego conservation”. He said that it was “nonsense, pointless and may well end up with very negative consequences”.
Perhaps one issue is that the Kenyan elephant population has more than doubled since 1989 to 34,000. Regrettably, the human population has also increased dramatically resulting in far more conflicts between elephants and farmers including the destruction of crops and water pumps. The Kenyans would argue that they don’t need the introduction of captive-bred elephants who have had no experience of their climate and the landscape in general. Professor Keith Sommerville says that they have “no institutional memory of foraging in the wild and migration routes.”
Comment: I’m no expert but I would argue that elephants have inherited memory in their DNA and that they will adapt to Kenyan life instinctively. It will just happen as if they have always lived in that wide-open African landscape. I therefore state, bearing in mind the success mentioned above, that this project would succeed and that people are being unjustifiably negative about it. There is a need to demonstrate that this kind of conservation project can be successful as the world is becoming more reliant on it due to the devastating destruction of wildlife habit across the planet.
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