Published: 07:56, 14 November 2021
| Updated: 10:42, 14 November 2021
The 13-strong herd of elephants at one of Kent's most popular attractions are being taught prompts ahead of their 4,400-mile journey to Africa.
In what will spell the end of an era for Howletts Wild Animal Park, all of its elephants will soon be relocated to their natural habitat as they start a new life.
Yet the Aspinall Foundation is confident the docile mammals will thrive in the wilds of Kenya.
Complex transportation plans to solve the not-so-simple matter of flying 13 elephants halfway across the globe are in the process of being drawn up.
Keepers are teaching the herd to respond to prompts to help them feel comfortable entering and exiting their individually-designed transport crates.
Kenyan authorities have also visited Howletts this month to discuss how the groundbreaking project will pan out.
The Foundation says that only when its experienced team of animal carers, behaviourists and veterinarians are confident with the herd’s development, and the Kenyan processes have been satisfied, will the translocation take place.
Once complete, it will be the first time in history that a herd of elephants has been rewilded in the world.
A series of comprehensive ecological assessments and Environment and Social Impact Assessments (ESIA) are being conducted by Kenya’s Wildlife Research and Training Institute to select the prime destination for the rewilding.
Damian Aspinall, chairman of The Aspinall Foundation, said: “This meeting has further strengthened our relationship with the Ministry and KWS, familiarised them with our cherished herd and been a positive step towards the next exciting phase.
"Working closely with their expert team will enable us to select the optimum habitat for these magnificent animals and ensure the smoothest possible transition to their new lives in the wild.”
The charity is confident the scheme will be a great success, and a trailblazer for other zoos to follow suit.
The cabinet secretary of the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism & Wildlife, Hon. Najib Balala, said: “We are delighted to be working with The Aspinall Foundation to make this monumental project a reality.
"Our engagements have been hugely positive, and we firmly believe that this will be a significant opportunity for Kenya.
“In line with our policy, Kenya will be working very closely with the UK on the rewilding strategy.
"It is a chance to change the lives of these elephants and to complete an important chapter for our country and for conservation history.”
'We firmly believe that this will be a significant opportunity...'
With elephants having also departed Port Lympne a few years ago, the impending end of captivity at Howletts means Kent will no longer be a home to any elephants.
The eldest of the Howletts herd was born in 1987, while the youngest was welcomed in March last year.