Zambezi the black rhino has died while being transported from the UK to Tanzania, where he was due to help repopulate the Serengeti.
The 17-year-old male from Port Lympne Reserve in Hythe, Kent was being transported from Lydd Airport in an Antonov 74 when he died for unknown reasons.
He was being accompanied by a team from the Grumeti Fund Reserve alongside one of his keepers and a vet from Africa.
The Aspinall Foundation, a British charity promoting wildlife conservation and runs Port Lympne Wild Animal Park and Howletts Wild Animal Park says it has successfully moved eight black rhinos to Africa, which has resulted in a least 15 calves in 24 years.
Damian Aspinall, chairman of The Aspinall Foundation says: “Like everyone at The Aspinall Foundation, I am shocked and devastated by the loss.”
He says the cause of death is not known but a full examination and enquiry will be carried out to see if there are lessons to be learnt.
Aspinall says the work in breeding critically endangered species and returning as many to protected areas in the wild will continue.
He says: “It is my firm belief that these animals do not belong in captivity, our long-term goal is to see all zoos phased out or, if they’re not, to see them truly doing conservation work.”