If you were over 30 years old and weighing in at between 5,000 and 10,000 lbs – wouldn’t you want to spend all day with the girls, grazing on more than 2,000 acres?
The Elephant Sanctuary offers just that for fourteen elephants – both Asian and African – who are old, sick or needy zoo and circus retirees.
The sanctuary is situated on 2,700 acres in Hohenwald, Tenn., where the weather is similar to the elephants’ natural habitats, according to the sanctuary’s website. It is the nation’s largest natural habitat refuge developed specifically to meet the needs of endangered elephants.
The sanctuary isn’t a fish bowl for the elephants – these large ladies are not on display for visiting humans. Instead, their home is made to be as much like the natural environment as possible. There are pastures, wooded areas, streams, ponds and a 25-acre spring fed lake that the elephants can stomp over to during the three to 15 mile walks they take each day. They are encouraged to live like elephants and are not required to entertain the public.
“In the wild, elephants are migratory, walking 30 to 50 miles each day, and form intricate family structures,” according to the sanctuary’s website. “They grieve for their dead in a more-than-instinctive way. They show humor and express compassion for one another with intense interactions. The reality of their lives in captivity is that many are in chains up to 18 hours a day. They are enclosed in steel pens – often alone – broken and controlled by fear and intimidation. Our mission is to give them the freedom they deserve.”
The sanctuary was founded by Carol Buckley and Scott Blais. Blais became an elephant trainer in 1993 for Tarra Productions, which was owned and operated by Buckley. Blais provided care for Tara, a female Asian elephant who entertained in circus, television and motion pictures. At Tara Productions, Buckley promoted, exhibited, trained and cared for Tara. Buckley also performed in circuses for nearly 15 years and implemented educational demonstrations for zoos throughout North America.
Phase 1 of the sanctuary began in 1995 with a heated barn, a 200-acre steel pipe and cable elephant corral and a 222-acre perimeter “people” fence. Phase 2 added a 9,000 square-foot elephant barn with six stalls and was completed in 1999. Since then, the sanctuary has acquired land and completed the 300-acre African Elephant Habitat in January of 2004. A quarantine for sick elephants was also added in 2004 and in 2005, the construction of a new Asian elephant house was finished.
Caregivers take care of the sanctuary, cleaning the barns and feeding the elephants each day. Food is delivered to the elephants during the day to encourage them to enjoy their habitat and interact with the other elephants. They get their last meal at 10 p.m. and only sleep four hours a day!
Elephants drink about 30 pounds of water and eat about 150 pounds of plant material, fruits, vegetables and grain each day, and each cost about $1,000 per month each for food, dietary supplements and veterinary care.
The sanctuary has only female elephants because in the wild, elephants live in matriarchal herds separate from the males. However, they do accept males in special circumstances.
The Elephant Sanctuary does not breed the elephants – there is no program to reintroduce the elephants back into the wild and at the sanctuary, they believe elephants should not be kept in captivity.
The sanctuary works to educate children across the country with its outreach program. A video teleconferencing program is used to teach thousands of school children across the country about issues facing Asian and African elephants, both in captivity and in the wild.
The sanctuary is licensed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture and is accredited by the Association of Sanctuaries. It is a non-profit organization whose donations come from public donations, membership support and in-kind donations, with no state or federal funding.
For more information on The Elephant Sanctuary, visit http://www.elephants.com/