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When Wildlife Conservation Goes Wrong

Rhino retreating at wildlife conservation park in the UK

Wildlife conservation isn’t an exact science and sadly it sometimes goes badly wrong.

The Aspinall Foundation

I often spend time at the Port Lympne and Howletts Conservation Parks in Kent. I’m a keen member and I’ve enjoyed meeting dedicated staff and other wildlife enthusiasts during the Members’ Open Days.

These fabulous conservation parks are run by the Aspinall Foundation. They work hard to return wildlife to the wild or to protected reserves in their natural habitats. They’ve run numerous successful breeding programmes. Their successful wildlife releases including gorillas, lemurs, and rhinos.  They work in close partnership with local communities and government organisations. Everything they do helps to reverse the complex problem of dwindling wildlife populations.

Rhino Returns to Tanzania

In 2019 the big news was that a black rhino called Zambezi was going to Grumeti Reserve in Tanzania. The keepers were giving him crate training. He was learning not to be afraid of the crate he was going to travel in during his flight to Africa. It would be very difficult and dangerous to tranquilise him for long periods. Crate training was important and helped him to be calm in a moving crate.

Plans were going really well. Zambezi was going to be the 9th black rhino released in Africa by the Aspinall Foundation. Some of the keepers and rangers were looking forward to easing him into his new life.  All of the staff and other members I spoke to just before the journey were excited about Zambezi’s future in Africa.

I’d been following Zambezi’s story online, and as his flight left I was looking forward to reporting on another success story.

And then it all went wrong.

When Wildlife Conservation Goes Wrong

In June 2019 the Aspinall Foundation sadly announced that Zambezi had died on the 7000 mile flight to Africa. They have investigated the cause of his death. At the time of writing, the outcome has not been released. I worked as an accident investigator in a previous career, so I know that it would be unfair to speculate on what happened.

However, I do know that the staff at both Port Lympne and Howletts are dedicated, knowledgeable and committed. Ideally they would love to create a world where we no longer need to keep wildlife in captivity. They will have done everything possible to prepare Zambezi for the journey, based on his needs and previous experience. Everyone there was devastated at the loss. I extended my own condolences on the Facebook page along with hundreds of other followers.

Life and death, in animals as in humans, is not an exact science.  But does it mean that we shouldn’t try?

Sales of my rhino artwork support rhino conservation projects with Save the Rhino (who have partnered with the Aspinall Foundation). Check out my available rhino paintings, prints and gifts here.

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