Ann Widdecombe launches elephant sanctuary project

A FORMER politician visited Noah’s Ark Zoo Farm to mark the start of a �1.2million project to create Europe’s largest planned elephant sanctuary.

The Right Honourable Ann Widdecombe went to the Wraxall attraction on Thursday to launch Elephant Eden - a 15-acre site which will include a revolutionary elephant house.

During her visit, Miss Widdecombe, who also starred in last year’s BCC series of Strictly Come Dancing and has been a long-term friend of zoo farm director, Anthony Bush, dug the first turf of an eco-irrigation pond which will serve the elephant facility, fed a tiger and met some of the staff.

After several years of research and planning permission being granted in 2010, now begins the development of the Elephant Eden project.

A statement from the zoo said: “We are confident this will become an internationally-recognised zoo exhibit and sanctuary for all the right reasons.”

Designed to deal with the serious health issues currently faced by elephants in other captive environments, Elephant Eden will encourage natural herd migration, feeding and social behaviours to keep the animals active, providing 15 acres of grazing land.

A further 11 acres of willow coppice woodland has also been planted to provide half of the branches the elephants will need daily.

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The elephant house will be developed with the scope to double its size as the herd grows, indoor and outdoor sand yards will be created to minimise foot problems and there will be a large bathing pool for stimulation and skin care.

All field fencing will be made up of electrified cables, designed to withstand a seven-tonne bull in musthe.

A raised viewing platform over an existing reed bed will allow visitors to see the elephants from above.

Once the work is complete, the zoo will take in three females and one bull, which will be given the freedom to breed naturally to take the herd up to a maximum of 10.

Building will start next year and Noah’s Ark is now working on fundraising toward the project through sponsorship and donations.

The creation of the sanctuary at the site off Clevedon Road is expected to create six to 10 new jobs and, once complete, will be used for educational visits.

It will also meet the Best Practise recommendations for caring for elephants, set out by the Coalition for Captive Elephant Wellbeing, going beyond the basic guidelines for elephant keeping in zoos - an industry first.