Mr Aspinall believes the millions spent on keeping the gentle creatures locked up in European zoos is a “travesty of justice”, adding that this money would be much better spent protecting wild animals from poachers.
Though it has been the “hardest thing he has ever done”, moving 13 elephants thousands of miles across the world, he would do it again in a heartbeat if another zoo relinquished their elephants to him.
He said: “If other zoos approached us and wanted to rewild their animals we would quite happily take them and take the responsibility. I don’t think the government should have to pay for this at all, I think zoological institutions should pay for it and we are certainly very happy to pay for it.”
The government is somewhat on board with his ideas, with ministers pointing to the Aspinall zoos as a good example of how wildlife parks can do in situ conservation. There are also plans to ban the breeding of elephants in this country so they are phased out of zoos, and to strip institutions of their charitable status if they do not spend enough of their income on conservation.
The ultimate aim of the Aspinall Foundation is to create a world where zoos no longer exist – which many may find ironic, as the charity originated as infamous gambling entrepreneur John Aspinall’s menagerie. Though he successfully released animals into the wild and was a great believer in wilderness, his son Damian goes further, and wishes to set a template for zoos around the world to follow.
“Zoos were created as a business, not as conservation,” he said, adding that enclosures are usually built, at great expense, “for benefit of the public, not for the animals.”
He thinks the government should regulate the money zoos spend, and that it should be used to help animals in the wild, and to create appropriate enclosures for the creatures in the zoo.
“When you build huge internal walkways or bridges or whatever these zoos do it tends to be very expensive,” he said.
“We have in our enclosures a lot more areas where the animals are off-show. Customers complain ‘ah it’s all overgrown’ but we have it overgrown on purpose as the animals like it because if they want to be off show we want to have long grass and scrubby bushes.”
He also claims that zoos lock their animals out in view of the public, so they have no way to have quiet and privacy.
“We would never lock an animal out on public display, most zoos will lock animals out on public display. It’s known that it causes animals mental distress and we would never do that. It still happens,” he said.