Elephant Sanctuary

I’ve blogged a few times about tourism and places you can go to see elephants, and I recommend it to people all the time because it’s life-changing and unique. There is nothing like being around an elephant. But there are other ways to support these grand and threatened animals, and some people might even be uncomfortable with the idea of elephants being put on display.

(I don’t take issue with this with the case of elephants in Thailand. Most of the ENP elephants, for example, were socialized to be around people and wouldn’t be able to fend for themselves. Those factors wouldn’t apply to other elephants.)

So I’ll devote some space to The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee. The sanctuary is home to 10 Asian and two African elephants, and they have tons of room to roam across its 2700 acres of land. The sanctuary is a non-profit and its workers rescue elephants who have lived their lives in zoos or circuses and are being “retired” because of their age or health problems. They’ve been at it for a long time, and not I can speak for elephants, but if I were an elephant being sent to this huge place with its tree-covered hills, lake, heated barns, and a gigantic building that can store 35,000 bales of hay – and caregivers who like to do create things like making birthday- and holiday-themed snacks for the elephants – I would think I’d hit the jackpot!

What sets The Elephant Sanctuary apart is that you can’t go there and spend time with the elephants. They do have a volunteer program – demand looks strong – but they make it clear you won’t be feeding or petting the animals. You can be sure you’re helping them, but if that doesn’t call to you, the Sanctuary does accept donations as well. (In fact, you can’t work as a volunteer unless you’re a member.) But that doesn’t mean you can’t connect to the guests. I periodically watch one of their three ele-cams. One shows the Asian habitat, another the African, and the third is trained on the quarantine facility. And even if you hadn’t heard the Sanctuary’s name, you might know one of its stories.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Tarra the elephant and Bella, her best friend who just happened to be a small adorable dog? That happened at the Elephant Sanctuary. Bella passed away in 2011, but Tarra is still there and doing well. She’s around 40, which is about middle-aged for an elephant, and has lived half her life on the Sanctuary grounds.

Or maybe you saw this I-Have-Something-in-My-Eye-Inducing footage of an elephant being freed after lonely years at a zoo? That’s Shirley, an older lady who has been free for 15 years now.

There are so many elephants in need of help, but so many people and places doing right by them. I hope some of the Ringling Bros. elephants are lucky enough to go to a place like this, and with luck it’ll be sooner than 2018.

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