11 western lowland gorillas set to leave Port Lympne Wild Animal Park for Congo and Gabon

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A family of gorillas is will soon be leaving Kent and heading to the lowlands of Africa.

The man behind the project wants it to spark a global debate on the role of the world’s zoos in conservation.

Eleven of the western lowland gorillas are moving from Port Lympne Wild Animal Park – and it’s the first time an entire captive family group will be re-homed on the continent.

It’s the work of the Aspinall Foundation which works to maintain threatens populations in their natural habitat.

The family of 11 will be moved early next year, along with six Javan gibbons, eight Javan langurs and two bull elephants. Three black rhino have already been released this year and are all doing well back in the wild in Tanzania.

Damian Aspinall helps run the foundation set up by his father John, and since 1996 has successfully taken dozens of the creatures back to Africa.

He said: “The Aspinall Foundation’s Back To The Wild initiative is unique and comprises of easily the most ambitious and wide ranging reintroductions of endangered species into the wild ever undertaken anywhere in the world.

“Equally important, it marks the Foundation’s absolute commitment to intensify the global debate around the role of wildlife parks and zoos. We passionately believe that the days are long gone when it could be seen as justifiable to keep animals in captivity simply for the purposes of display or education.”

“True conservation must be fundamental to the existence of any collection of captive animals in the 21st century. We believe this has to involve the protection, where necessary, of endangered species coupled with successful and sustainable breeding programmes - always with the ultimate aim wherever possible of returning animals to the wild. This can be the only possible justification in the 21st century for the existence of collections of animals in captivity.”

The latest return group to Congo and Gabon involves 200kg Djala and his five wives and five children, aged between eight months and six years. They have never known a home outside Howletts and Port Lympne wild animal parks.

The 30-year-old male had originally been saved from poachers before arriving at Port Lympne in the 1990s.

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