African Ele-Diary

Each time an African elephant arrives at the Sanctuary we post her progress in this diary. As she adjusts to her new life, entries in her diary are less frequent. On-going entries continue to be posted whenever a new or interesting event occurs. This diary began January 2, 2004 when our elephant transport trailer was delivered to the Chehaw Wild Animal Park in Georgia, in preparation of the move of Tange and Zula, our first African elephants. For weekly updates on all of the elephants at the Sanctuary, visit our Ele-Notes.

Afrcan habitat
The African Elephant Barn


December 5, 2011

A letter from Flora's primary Caregiver, Angela...

As most people know by now, the documentary about Flora and her journey to sanctuary recently aired on the OWN network. From what I have heard, there are conflicting viewpoints on what the documentary was really about after all was said and done, but hopefully this can be set aside to allow for the fact that at least it touched on the plight of elephants captured and brought into captivity. Even if it isn't exactly what people expected or wanted (things rarely are), it can still allow Flora to be an ambassador to her species - if we let it.

One Lucky Elephant Star Flourishes at Sanctuary in Tennessee


There are those who come away from the program feeling they have learned about something they care about and want to support. There are those who come away with the opinion that David should be allowed to visit, or at least view, Flora. There are still more who just have more questions than they did before they saw it. That's okay. I don't know if there is one absolute answer that fits this dilemma, but I do think the decisions that were set in place were coming from a place of concern for everyone...both human and elephant.

Those who cared for Flora here after David was good enough to let her come saw the reality of her capabilities and strength. If everyone could see the twisted, crumpled pieces of steel that she took out her frustrations on (shaped in a manner that wasn't supposed to be "possible" according to the steel companies), perhaps it would give them a better understanding of the safety issues involved in the final decision regarding visitation. The thought of, "maybe it's been long enough that she wouldn't do anything like that again" is understandable, but when you weigh the risk of injury and safety, and the possible worst case scenarios, one must consider both the best and worst outcome to be fair.

Flora is doing very well, and continues to evolve in her relationships with both Tange and her caregivers. She has more frequent playful moments than in the past, but still adheres to her more serious personality. She is highly intelligent, a stunning example of her species, and is a pleasure to be around. We did a recent measurement and she stands over 9 feet tall at the shoulder-quite a big girl. Tange follows with an impressive height of between 8 and 9 feet at the shoulder.

As a caregiver, whenever Flora "gives" you something, it is a huge honor. When it's her choice to cooperate and offer behaviors during training, or even when she elicits the very soft rumbles of greeting when you approach, it warms you a bit and makes you smile. Seeing these amazing animals move through their day without fear or strict, structured routines is a genuine pleasure. It's nice to know sometimes we actually have to go out and find them doing what they do, rather than having them programmed to do certain things or be at specific places at specific times. Flora is definitely one who enjoys these freedoms, often being found at the Pipeline Pine Forest (one of her favorite hangouts) ….

Watching her out in the woods, working over a tree, gives you an appreciation of just how strong she is. It lies in stark contrast to the soft moments where she lays her trunk gently along a top rail, moving only the tip to smell and investigate what you're doing. Or the times she offers you the tiniest twig or stone, laying it softly on top of a waterer or fence post, then backing away as if to allow you to take it.

The African demeanor can, however, be a bit jarring at times, such as when they come into the barn at the end of the day. One usually comes in just before the other, and if it's Flora who is first, she will often move quickly to the center divider and tusk the bars as Tange playfully moves past her on the other side. This gives the gates a nice big rattle/bang, and can make you jump a little even when you're used to it. The big head shake/ear flaps just before they leave the barn is also a bit funny...sort of like an, "Okay, here I come" move as their gates are opening to let them out into the habitat. Clouds of red-brown dust hanging in the air are the only evidence of elephants once they pop through the doors on their way out to morning hay.

Their LOUD "dinosaur" rumbles are so powerful, you can feel them move through you if you're standing near enough, and that's outside the barn. Inside the barn, the rumbles can be felt in every corner, and they set the pigeons roosting above to flight. Sometimes I wish I had ear plugs when their enthusiasm elevates the volume of their trumpets, rumbles and roars to a level that makes your hair nearly stand up.

I hope everyone who sees the film can at least enjoy getting to know Flora a bit better, then follow her on her daily adventures through the ele-cam and elenotes. From a first-hand perspective, I feel very lucky to share her life and spend time with her every day. She is a wonderful spirit, and for as long as I'm with her, I will acknowledge that every single day.



Watch Slide Show!

Flora – Finding Sanctuary in Tennessee

Doing What's Best for Flora



May 27, 2011

Recently, Scott was doing a little bulldozer work to clear some 4-wheeler trails in North Woods Valley. Of course, anytime something new and exciting happens in their habitat, it is cause for celebration for Flora and Tange. As you will see in this video, they both got very playful and vocal!


April 28, 2011

For several years, the African elephants at the Sanctuary have been taking advantage of the natural browse available to them in their habitat. As you will see in this video, they have become quite skilled using their tusks to strip the tasty bark from trees.


March 22, 2011

Tange and Flora usher in the second day of spring with a day at the spa!

Watch Slide Show!

February 18, 2011

Tomorrow marks the 7th anniversary of Tange and Zula's arrival from Cheehaw Wild Animal Park in Albany, GA--and also the day we officially opened our African habitat! Beautiful Zula, your spirit is still with us.

December 29, 2010

2010: The Year in Pictures

Watch Slide Show!

December 21, 2010

(NOTE: If you are having difficulty accessing the embedded video on this page, you can watch it on our YouTube Channel.)

With Zula's passing last year, Tange and Flora began spending more time together. At first, it seemed that Flora still preferred to have her own space, but lately she seems to be opening up to Tange more often. Tange chooses to spend the majority of her time close to Flora, and over time, Flora has been increasingly accepting of her companionship. You will usually find them hanging out in the same part of the habitat—sometimes separately doing their own things—and sometimes standing together.

Recently, we have noticed that Flora and Tange have been playing together more often. They will chase each other around the habitat, sometimes covering about an acre of land. With Tange, it is very obvious when she is ready to play, as she tucks her head down low and bows down with her ears out. With both Girls spinning around in circles and kicking their legs out behind them, they signal, "Let's Go!"  On several occasions, we witnessed Flora getting down on her knees and allowing Tange to wrestle her from above. With their trunks entwined and touching all over each other’s faces, it becomes apparent that these two feel affection towards one another. We are lucky to be witness to these two elephants interacting in such a natural way, and are very happy that the depth of their friendship continues to grow.

June 30, 2010

The 300-acre African Habitat is made up of three areas, all have beautiful valleys, creeks, hills and secret little gullies. All three also have lots of magnificent trees, both conifers and deciduous, and offer our African elephants at the Sanctuary the unique opportunity to freely exercise their natural, wild instincts to browse and create savannas.
Currently, Tange and Flora have access to two of these areas. One is a 10-acre section near the Barn, where at one time you could not even see into the Valley because of all the trees. Today, it looks like a bomb has exploded. (Their names were Zula, Tange and Flora!) It's a healthy site to see though, because that means the Girls have constantly been on the move and eating what they like to their heart's content. The second area is about 50 acres that includes the Plateau and Pipeline, places where they have knocked down so many trees it's hard to keep the roads clear. This area also includes a very lush Valley where they spend a lot of time, and you can often hear trees popping down in this Valley.
The third area is approximately 240 acres that has only been partly explored by Tange and Zula in years past, but because of Flora's more robust fencing requirements, she has not yet toured this area. We would like to change that, but first need to rebuild the fencing to Flora's standards. Plans are currently underway to apply for some grants in hopes we can get this project underwritten soon, allowing us to open up more areas of habitat to both Flora and Tange once new fence construction is complete.

On average, the Girls knock down and eat at least four trees a day (and who knows how many at night!). The African Girls are resourceful and will eat the entire tree, starting with the tender tips of the Pines, the roots of the Hickories as well as stripping and eating the bark off of all of them.

In most areas, the only trees that are left standing are the ones sitting on the side of a very steep hill or in a deep gully—we even have an area where the Girls have eaten off all the tops of the trees and left the rest, giving it a very manufactured look. Thanks to their tireless landscaping efforts, Africa is being transformed into a very nice, very flat Plain, full of all types of grasses, weeds, and of course, 100 to 300-gallon mud holes.
Ordinarily these new greenways sound ideal to sustain them, but Africans prefer to have trees in their diet. Basic math tells us that at the rate they are going, with the exception of the trees growing on steep slopes the elephants aren't able to easily navigate, they could eventually de-forest almost the entire 300 acres. When this new fencing project is complete, our goal is to be able to rotate them into different areas of the habitat at different times of the year, allowing new forest growth to preserve the mainstay of their diets, while giving them new areas to explore that are virtually untouched.

Watch Slide Show!

March 15, 2010

You may wonder what activities Flora finds to keep her busy. Landscaping for one. Flora comes from a long line of "landscapers" in the African savannah. Taking down trees and shrubs is a "natural," as well as planting seeds through her dung droppings. The elephants of Africa are constantly changing the landscape, which transforms forest to savannah and savannah back to forests. As you can see, Flora is very focused on her task at hand. (See the 3/15/10 Ele-Notes for the rest of the story)



February 20, 2010

We are sometimes asked about the size of Tange and Flora’s tusks; why they are smaller than African elephants in the wild, and do not appear to have grown very much in the 6 years they have been here at the Sanctuary. While elephant tusks are often trimmed and filed in captivity, that is not the case here. Just like people, an elephant’s hair, toenails and tusks grow at different rates. Genetically, some have long tusks, some short, some thin and others thick.  The role that any captive environment plays on tusk formation is the result of having man-made, unnaturally hard surfaces like concrete and steel--these will often wear their tusks at a higher rate than you would see in the wild.

In a recent visit to Africa, researchers talked about right and left-handed elephants; they often have one tusk they favor more than the other for pulling roots and small trees, many times leading to deep grooves and additional wear in just one of their tusks. 

Here at the Sanctuary, Flora’s tusks do not grow as fast at Tange’s--a genetic trait, plus Flora is a little harder on hers. She often chips them when playing in the barn and wears them rapidly when digging roots or stripping the bark off the trees. Also with Flora, the portion of the trunk that drapes over and around her tusks is longer and wider than Tange’s, which also contributes to the smaller appearance. When Flora raises her trunk and exposes her tusks, they are actually over 12 inches long.

In these photos, you can see the size difference in Tange and Flora's tusks vs. how much larger they actually are when they raise their trunks in play.

Tange and Flora

Tange and Flora at play

January 20, 2010

Tange and Flora having fun in the mud - something that is practically an every day occurrence for these two!