This is a massive and for the elephants involved risky piece of PR. It will not advance elephant conservation in Kenya but will end up in the elephants dying quickly in the wild of staying in an elephant orpyhanage. This is not the way to save elephants. (see below the article for a longer comment) KS

Guardian (UK)

Mammoth journey ahead as elephants leave Kent zoo for the Kenyan savannah (England)
Patrick Greenfield,
July 5, 2021 

See link for photos.

A herd of elephants born and raised in a Kent zoo are about to get on a plane to travel almost 4,500 miles (7,000km) to Kenya, in order to reintroduce them to the wild in a first-of-its kind operation.

The herd of 13, which includes three calves, were all but one born at Howletts Wild Animal Park, a private zoo near Canterbury. The mammoth mission to “rewild” the elephants is being carried out by the Aspinall Foundation, the Kenya Wildlife Service and Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

Although travel arrangements for the elephants are yet to be confirmed, the animals will probably travel fully conscious in transportation crates in a large aircraft, with help from South African specialists in elephant transportation. The elephants will spend time in the crates ahead of the journey, in order to get used to the spaces and reduce stress during the flight. They will be continuously monitored by a team of vets.

When they get to Kenya, the savannah elephants, the endangered but most common African elephant species, will be held in an enclosure for six months so conservationists can monitor their reaction to the different climate and diseases.

The Aspinall Foundation, the British wildlife charity that operates the Kent zoo, has experience facilitating the successful reintroductions of gorillas, rhinos and other species from captivity.

Damian Aspinall, the chairman of the Aspinall Foundation, said: “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 elephants 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 new sites for the elephants have not yet been chosen but it is understood areas that could support many more of the large mammals will be selected.

Angela Sheldrick, CEO of the Sheldrick Trust, said: “Since the 1970s we have been helping elephants. 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.”

Earlier this year,the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which compiles a regularly updated “red list” of at-risk plants and animals, produced the first-ever assessment of African elephants as two species, finding the forest elephant and savannah elephant are both threatened with extinction.

KS Comment:

Kenya does not need more elephants flown in. In 1989 there were just 16,000 elephants in the country, by 2018 that number had increased to 34,000, as poaching had declined. But alongside that5 positive increase has come a massive increase in human elephant conflict as elephants try to migrate in search of food and water in the dry season – trashing poor farmers’ crops, killing people and breaking water pumps and livestock fences. Kenya doesn’t need the introduction of captive-bred elephants with no experience of the climate, water and vegetation.

It seems likely they will go to Tsavo. But when the Kenya Wildlife Service tried in June 2018 to relocate 11 black rhinos from Lake Nakuru National park in Kenya to Tsavo, they all died very quickly. Save the Rhino reported at the time that the rhinos died “as a result of multiple stress syndrome, which was intensified by salt poisoning, dehydration, starvation and gastric issues.” One rhino was killed by lions as a result of its weakened state.

An independent inquiry initiated by the Kenyan Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife noted that “clear professional negligence took place at the release site, with poor communication between teams causing issues not to be acknowledged”. A former chair of the Kenya Wildlife Service, Richard Leakey issued a statement after the deaths saying that, before the end of his tenure as Chair on 17 April 2018, the Board had noted that “there was a deep concern about the lack of vegetation in the sanctuary that could sustain rhino and also, the real issue of available and safe water.”

Those were wild rhinos relocated from one national park to another and they could not adapt to the water quality and type of vegetation, leading to severe gastric problems and starvation. Aspinall’s elephants have been captive-bred, used to British weather conditions and have been fed and watered throughout their lives. They have not had to fend for themselves in finding potable water in the dry season, knowing which leaves and grasses as edible and which are poisonous or indigestible and how to protect young elephants from lions.Rewilding can work and if a species if highly endangered then the risks, and Damian Aspinall has admitted this is risky venture, may be worth it. But where you have a national elephant population that is rising, combined with a high level of human-elephant conflict involving human and elephant mortality, crop destruction, infrastructural damage and growing human hostility, this is not a good way forward for conservation and for Kenya’s elephants.

Put the money into projects that help mitigate human-elephant conflict not in flying elephants around the globe to likely die in the wild, to which they are totally unused.