Dear Mrs Johnson,
Let me be one of the first to congratulate you on writing your first newspaper article using your shiny new surname. There is a certain satisfaction to having your name up in lights, well, in this case up in the big light – The Sun. I am reliably informed by my British friends that The Sun is a respectable vehicle for whatever it is they put on page 3, which seems to be a real draw for UK readers. Not only that, your press release was picked up by the equally venerable Daily Mail, which is apparently even read in Africa. Indeed, the Kenyan government found out about your brilliant plan in that paragon of British press.
But I am getting ahead of myself. Let’s talk about your actual plan. I believe the idea is to take 13 elephants, which are so spoilt that they must have upper-class British accents by now, to Africa. Pardon me for calling them “spoilt”, but not all captive elephants have (and I quote): “four large paddocks to choose from with different substrates that naturally help with their foot care; sand, grass, mud and concrete and a deep pond, which they all enjoy.” Sounds like sheer luxury. The elephants chained in concrete enclosures all over the world can only dream of such spa-like treatment. I think the wild ones may be somewhat jealous, too, but more on that later.
Nonetheless, five-star elephant accommodation was not good enough for you and your fellows at the Aspinall Foundation. True, these ‘poor’ elephants may never feel the African sun on their skin. As an African who has visited the UK during your cold, dark winters, I feel their pain. I can only imagine how the planning meetings went for this particularly ambitious venture –
Mrs Carrie Johnson (CJ): “These poor, miserable elephants. I must save them from this wretched existence!”
Howletts zoo-keeper (Hz): “But ma’am, they have four paddocks to choose from”;
CJ: “But they never get to feel African sunshine!”
Hz: “We do our best, ma’am – although we can’t give ‘em sun, they have a choice of sand, mud or grass beneath their feet;”
CJ: “But it’s not African sand, mud and grass, now is it?”
Hz: “No ma’am, it’s all English. Especially the mud.”
CJ: “That’s it. I must save them!”
With the bit between your teeth, you are unstoppable, and in your distinguished role as Director of communications for the Aspinall Foundation (and, perhaps, as wife of the Prime Minister?), no one could talk you out of it. Except, perhaps, the Kenyan government. It seems that even though you work closely with an elephant sanctuary in Kenya (read: somewhat larger, African, version of Howletts in the UK), no one appears to be working with the other Kenyans. You know, those people who run the country, whose approval is required before any elephants can be shifted off a plane and into the African sunshine.
Despite some interesting claims that the Kenyan Wildlife Service was with you all the way in your noble endeavour to make elephants feel the African sun, their response to a first reading of the Daily Mail was: “Uh, what elephants?”
Hmm. An unforeseen hiccup. Never mind. Considering your steely determination to set the elephants free, I am sure it is only a temporary setback. Here is where I can help, if you will consider my humble African opinion on the matter. You see, although you had rather a frosty reception in Kenya, I think I could broker a deal for you in Namibia. Now, before you start ranting about Namibia trying to shed 170 elephants through a recent auction, hear me out.
The Namibian government is in a tight spot right now with another large, charismatic species – the lion. You see, they’ve had a massive drought over there for several years in a row; long story short, the poor lions are now starving to death. As a leading light of the animal welfare industry, you must surely be aware of the lions’ plight. So while we’re in the business of saving 13 elephants from their pampered existence in the UK, can’t we strike a similar deal to save the lions?
I propose a bold new idea – one that will no doubt get those donations rolling in – why don’t we swap lions for elephants? I think 13 fewer lions in northwestern Namibia would come as a welcome relief to the people who are being eyed up by the starving big cats as potential dinner. You could even use the same plane, which cuts costs and maximises profit for Aspinall (don’t let that pesky UK Charity Commission get in your way!). But don’t stop there, you can offer your supporters the once-in-a-lifetime chance to get involved in the “real conservation work” of looking after the lions themselves. Let me explain.
Did you know that we have fossil evidence showing that lions used to roam the English countryside? Yes, that’s right, those pristine little green hills with hedgerows all around them used to be a wild place – where the lion roared and the wolf howled! This is a next-level opportunity – don’t you think? If you take 13 hungry Namibian lions and release them into some of the UK’s unfenced parks, the Aspinall Foundation can boast of the first ever pre-historical rewilding programme! (On the sports front, calling a rugby team the British and Irish Lions in the absence of real lions roaming freely over there is rather hollow – you can change all that). I’m sure the joggers and dog-walkers who use these parks won’t mind the odd lion encounter. Particularly ardent supporters of Aspinall might even offer their dogs as a big cat snack. For the greater good, of course.
But what about those 13 elephants? Why am I so confident that the Namibians would agree to such a swap? (Following your stellar example, I haven’t told them about this yet – the press deserve to know first). Well, the Namibians will put them where the lions came from – a straight swap, after all. This is another win for you and your donors, because unlike a fenced sanctuary in Kenya, this is the “real wilds of Africa”. So much more credibility for your rewilding attempt!
In the real wild, as our Namibian friends know, elephants don’t get to “choose from four different paddocks” or decide whether or not they feel like a dip in the pool now, or perhaps in a few minutes. On the contrary, wild elephants in arid northwestern Namibia have no time for first-world problems – they are too busy trying to survive.
They have to know exactly where the few waterpoints are located within thousands of miles of desert, for a start. Then they have to find food, which is a huge challenge for an animal that needs up to 250kg of food every day, especially when everything around them is red rock and sand. Perhaps they will be lucky and find one of the dry riverbeds where the wild elephants hang out. Only thing is, I doubt the wild herds will welcome these resource-munching interlopers with strange British accents any more than the Kenyan government. Oh well, let’s leave elephant politics to elephants, shall we?
So what will happen to the 13 elephants? Well, captive-raised elephants dumped in “real wild Africa” won’t last long. Perhaps long enough for a photo-shoot that you can use as evidence for your incredible success story soon after the swap, but not long enough to bother the Namibian people too much.
This opportunity I am offering you is simply too good to refuse. It’s a double win for your UK supporters – they not only get to feel good about releasing those poor captive elephants into the wild, they also get to be a part of a ground-breaking rewilding attempt for lions. Some of them may even help the lions get back to good health with the odd dog or child sacrifice. I also have reason to believe that the Namibian government would jump at the opportunity to swap starving lions for pampered elephants. They really have nothing to lose from the transaction, so why not?
Please let me know what you think of this plan to save some face for you and Mr Aspinall. You may be rejected by Kenya, but Namibia will welcome you with open arms!
A helpful African
P.S. We heard that Kenya finally agreed to your scheme. Our offer for 13 lions still stands!
Note: This piece is purely satirical. No elephants, lions, dogs or children were harmed by this writing.