The Elephant Sanctuary is licensed by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA).

Lots of space       Freedom to roam 

"We tend to see in some situations that elephants don't cope well with captivity just because they have this inherent instinct to roam vast distances," said Dr. Deborah Wells, Senior Lecturer and Researcher in Animal Welfare, School of Psychology, Queen’s University, Belfast, UK.


Some Viewpoints on Elephants and Space

The Elephant Sanctuary's Viewpoint:
Crucial to The Elephant Sanctuary’s system of passive control management is an elephant's access to a vast and diverse space. Elephants are a highly intelligent, social species, motivated by food and relationships. It is our observation that a diverse vast space and compatible others have the greatest positive influence on an elephant's behavior and health. Space helps to reduce tension and relieve boredom. With room to roam, elephants can maintain healthy feet and a toned body. Subordinate elephants do not feel trapped or hunted by an intimidating elephant; with room, the subordinate elephant can flee. She has an opportunity to develop the self-confidence necessary to overcome her fear, and over time she can develop the skills to relate to other elephants and become a viable, integral member of the herd. Space provides the opportunity to avoid confrontation, thereby reducing stress. Reducing the pressures that can cause an elephant to become fearful and/or agitated decreases the probability of aggression toward other elephants and caregivers.

With space, elephants spend less time in proximity to caregivers and more time relating to one another. They learn to get their social and psychological needs met from one another, and they become a healthy, self-governing herd. The caregiver's role is not to dominate or dictate the elephants' lives but to provide a place where the elephants feel safe. See Management Philosophy.

AZA Viewpoint:
"While space may be important for elephants, there are no scientific studies that can assist us in determining either the minimum or optimum amount of outdoor space required for captive elephants. It is important to note, however, that bigger does not always imply better."
Michael Hutchins, PhD
Director/William Conway Chair
AZA Department of Conservation and Science

Coalition for Captive Elephant Well-Being Disputes the AZA's viewpoint:
"AZA has developed no empirical evidence to support its much cherished hypothesis that space, whether "enriched" or not, doesn't matter." 
Lisa Kane, Attorney and Writer

Lisa Kane is part of an ad hoc inter-disciplinary group, the Coalition for Captive Elephant Well-Being, founded in 2004. Its membership includes zoo industry professionals, veterinarians, animal behaviorists, academics, field scientists, animal wellfare experts and public policy and law professionals. The group's purpose is to disseminate science-based analysis and recommendations for institutions holding elephants captive.

Coalition White Papers:

  • Optimal Conditions for Elephants in Captivity, by Lisa Kane, JD, Debra Forthman, Ph.D., and David Hancocks This white paper presents and analyzes scientific literature relevant to elephant species' evolutionary history and ecology, animal learning, stress and distress, conditioning, and current management practices utilized by industries holding elephants captive.

  • Best Practices by the Coalition for Captive Elehant Well-Being," edited by Lisa Kane, JD, Debra Fothman, Ph.D., and David Hancocks
    This white paper presents evidence-based standards for the care and management of elephants held captive. It addresses topics ranging from space requirements and social and occupational needs of elephants to nutritional, health and training best practices.

Both documents are available on Elephant Care International under the Managment section.