Djala, a gorilla rescued from Gabon after his parents were killed for bushmeat, is on his way home.
The 440lb silverback left the Wild Animal Park in Kent, UK, last Sunday and is traveling more than 5,000 miles back to Batéké Plateau National Park in his native Gabon, West Africa. He was accompanied by four female mates and their four infants, between eight months and six years old. (He also has another 11 children.)
Djala was saved over 30 years ago by a French helicopter pilot who spotted a group of children playing with the orphan. He was taken to Libreville, the capital of Gabon, where he was raised by a Frenchwoman who looked after him in her garden. Eventually he got too big for the garden, and so she turned to the Aspinall Foundation for help.
Conservationist Damian Aspinall has had Djala under the care of the Foundation ever since. This journey is part of the Aspinall Foundation’s Back To The Wild campaign.
How inspiring to read about a program at a wild animal park that has the goal of returning animals to the wild!
Animals In Captivity Under Stress
Plenty of studies have indeed found that animals in captivity endure their full share of stress, and are not happy. Elephants in zoos and parks have been found to be suffering from a lack of exercise that makes their lifespans half as long as they would be in the wild.
There are also plenty of tales of animal escape artists, so presumably animals don’t like being in captivity, although very few of them actually succeed. Remember the Humboldt penguin that escaped from Tokyo’s Sea Life Park? He had 82 days of freedom but ultimately found himself back in the Aquarium.
So Djala has really lucked out: first being rescued from certain death at the hands of poachers, then raised in captivity, and now released back to his native Gabon.
Let’s hope all goes well with the release of these nine gorillas.
Wildlife officials in Gabon may get some pointers from the case of Thandora, the released elephant in Gondwana Game Reserve, who is slowly getting used to living in the wild. Thandora spent 23 years in Bloemfontein Zoo in South Africa before being released 6 weeks ago.
Damian Aspinall, however, believes all animals belong in the wild. He has no worries about the gorillas adjusting to their new environment.
If We Can Protect Animals In The Wild Properly, Then There’s No Need For Zoos
From The Daily Mail:
He said: ‘They don’t belong here. I’ve been with gorillas before when they’re released back into the wild. They’ve wandered out of the crate and looked like they’d been in the forest all their life.’
He said: ‘The ultimate aim would be to send back all the animals that aren’t truly endangered,’ he said. ‘But some species, like black rhino, need protecting at the moment.
‘If we can protect animals in the wild properly, then there’s no need for zoos. That’s got to be the ultimate aim. But that’s a 30-year dream.’
‘It isn’t hard to say goodbye. In fact, it’s very, very hard to keep them. It’s much easier in my heart and soul to free them. Otherwise, I just feel like a jailer for prisoners without parole.’
To help with the transition, Phil Ridges, who manages the gorilla section at Port Lympne, will be working with a team to help the gorillas acclimatize to their new life. They will be monitored for about four months and given food to supplement what they can forage, before being released into the wild, in an area where gorillas were hunted to extinction about 40 years ago.
The Aspinall Foundation has released 26 gorillas in Gabon and 25 in Congo since 1996. Of these, 43 were wild-born orphans and seven were animals born in captivity and hand-reared.
The Foundation runs several conservation projects around the world, the flagship project being in Congo and Gabon, where they protect and manage the one-million-acre park known as the Batéké Plateau, where Djala and his family are headed.
Hooray for the Aspinall Foundation, proving that there are reputable zoos and wild animal parks that are not just about making money or caging animals, but about conservation and education.
Photo Credit: biggles621