By Patrick Greenfield, The Guardian
Confusion has erupted over plans to fly a herd of elephants from Kent to Kenya, after the Kenyan wildlife service said it had not been contacted or consulted about the operation.
On Monday, the Aspinall Foundation announced ambitious plans to transport 13 savanna elephants, born and bred in captivity, almost 4,500 miles from their home at Howletts Wild Animal Park to a site in the east African country, in partnership with the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).
The wildlife charity, where the prime minister’s wife, Carrie Johnson, has a top corporate role in communications, said it would be a world-first operation to “rewild” the mammals.
But on Wednesday, Kenya’s ministry of tourism and wildlife tweeted its concern about newspaper reports of the plan and said it had not been contacted.
In a statement, the ministry said it had “noted with concern an article published in the Daily Mail, UK, stating that a herd of 13 elephants will be relocated from Kent Wildlife Park in the UK to Kenya in what is referred to as a ‘world first rewilding project’ by the publication”.
“The ministry wants to state that neither them nor the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) have been contacted or consulted on this matter.
“Relocation and rehabilitation of an animal from a zoo is not easy and is an expensive affair.”
The Guardian has been told that the director general of the KWS received a proposal for the relocation on Tuesday, although informal discussions did take place last year. The decision to transport the elephants will require formal approval from the Kenyan government, which has not been given, and will be subjected to national and international guidelines on wildlife introductions.
Of the 13 elephants, a dozen were born at the park in Kent, while one was born in Israel. As part of the announcement, the Aspinall Foundation said they would be held in an enclosure for six months upon their arrival so vets could monitor their reaction to the different climate and diseases.
Meanwhile, the Charity Commission continues to investigate the Aspinall Foundation and Howletts Wild Animal Trust, which manages the private zoo that houses the elephants, over possible conflicts of interest and misuse of charitable resources.
Elephant specialists and conservationists have privately expressed their concerns about the plan to transport animals, highlighting that Kenya already has about 35,000 elephants and funds to transport the mammals might be better spent on other projects.
Both the Aspinall Foundation charity and Howletts Wild Animal Trust, which manages two parks in Kent, are still under investigation by the Charity Commission in the UK. It confirmed both inquiries were active but were unable to comment on their findings.
A spokesperson for the Aspinall Foundation said they were perplexed by the announcement from the Kenyan ministry of tourism and that it had been in consultation with the KWS since last year. They acknowledged there was a process for obtaining permission to transport the elephants and were looking forward to working towards formal approval from the Kenyan government.