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Plans for Europe's largest elephant sanctuary causes controversy

A zoo in Somerset has just started work on Europe's largest elephant sanctuary. Noah's Ark near Wraxall plans to open the 20 acre enclosure next summer. And just down the road in Longleat plans are underway for a similar sanctuary.

Artist impression of what the new sanctuary will look like Credit: ITV West

But animal charities say elephants shouldn't be kept in captivity and they're urging Noah's Ark not to go ahead with the plans.

We are extremely concerned about the plans for this new enclosure - which we urged Noah's Ark not to proceed with. It is clear elephants do not fare well in zoos and we believe it would be highly irresponsible to introduce yet more of the animals to such a damaging environment.

– Andrew Kelly, RSPCA's Head of Wildlife
The plans to build Europe's largest elephant sanctuary has caused great debate Credit: ITV West

It's something keepers here at Noah's Ark say they've considered. According to zoo owner Anthony Bush, the £1m Elephant Eden project is a "significant step forward" in the care of elephants in captivity.

Elephant Eden will be a new chapter in the history of elephant accommodation - and is the result of extensive thought and planning. Elephants are the largest land mammals, and we want to create a destination of paradise for these important creatures.


– Noah's Ark owner, Anthony Bush

The enclosure will house up to 10 elephants, with the plans to start with three females and a male. The zoo plans to start a breeding programme too.

The foundations are being put in place for Europe's largest elephant sanctuary Credit: ITV West

Down the road at Longleat, they're also planning an elephant sanctuary. This one won't have a breeding programme and aims to only take in rescue animals already in captivity.

They are highly intelligent and sensitive animals. In the wild they will range over tens of kilometres of land a day, exploring and foraging for food. Studies have even shown that the levels of lameness suffered by elephants in captivity are on a par to those seen in intensively farmed dairy cattle or broiler chickens.

– Andrew Kelly, RSPCA's Head of Wildlife
Work has started on building Europe's largest elephant sanctuary Credit: ITV West

The sanctuary at Noah's Ark should open next summer and Longleat hopes their sanctuary won't be far behind.

The issue of animals in captivity has long been a contentious one - and with these two major projects moving forward in such close proximity - it looks like the debate will continue.