From Kent to Kenya: UK elephants flown to Africa on 'Dumbo jet'

Boris Johnson's wife Carrie is involved in plan to 'rewild' captive herd

A herd of elephants will be flown thousands of miles from England to a new home in Africa as part of what is said to be the world's first "rewilding" initiative for the species.

The Aspinall Foundation said it would fly 13 elephants more than 6,400 kilometres, from their current home in Kent to the plains of Kenya. Carrie Johnson, the wife of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, is the communication director of the conservation body.

The herd, which includes three calves, will be flown on a Boeing 747, known as the Dumbo jet.

The charity said it would work with anti-poaching teams to help ensure the long-term survival of the herd once it reaches one of two sites under consideration in southern Kenya.

The elephants, which weigh more than 25 tonnes, have been living at Howletts Wild Animal Park near Canterbury, which is part of the Aspinall Foundation.

Mrs Johnson said elephants held in captivity had a lower life expectancy than those in the wild, and they were more likely to become overweight and suffer from arthritis and other conditions associated with immobility.

"There are powerful and well-intentioned voices that contend we need to keep a reserve for these endangered species, behind bars or wire fences, in zoos," she said in an article for The Sun newspaper, co-written with foundation chairman Damian Aspinall.

"We at the Aspinall Foundation are not so sure. In fact, we know it is overwhelmingly better, where possible, for animals to be in the wild. The data is unmistakable."

They said it is the first time a breeding herd of elephants will have been rewilded, with the operation planned for next year.

"Life in Kent is pretty good for these elephants, all things considered. But Africa is where they belong," she said.

"In time, their descendants will number in the hundreds – and then the thousands – and form part of the incomparable ecosystem that helps drive the Kenyan tourist economy."

The Aspinall Foundation operates two wildlife parks in Kent. While the attempt to rewild elephants is a first, last year it transferred two cheetahs back to their native territory in South Africa.

Updated: July 6th 2021, 11:52 AM