The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

African Ele-Diary 2005

December 11, 2005

The African ELE-Pets found a warm and cozy spot to take a group nap—a foot soak bucket lined with fresh hay!

As a postscript to this photo, several e-mails have come in asking "Why don't we spay our cats?" -- As a matter of fact, ALL our dogs and cats are spayed or neutered. These little kittens were born to a stray cat we rescued. Not only did we give all the babies a home, we spayed them as well!

Java and the cats snuggle up



October 23, 2005

Tange and Zula are exploring farther afield then ever before. They have found not only more pine forests, but the hardwood forests as well.

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October 9, 2005

Flora and Zula. Their mutual respect is obvious.

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Zula in her element.

Zula in her element


September 27, 2005
The forest is so beautiful and lush this time of year and Tange has no problem navigating her way through the dense growth. Her main motivator…food. Tange is driven by her stomach and spends the majority of her waking hours in search for MORE!

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September 23, 2005
Tange has a way of entertaining herself…continually. Her non-stop energy and easy-going nature makes her a joy to observe. Today the EleCam caught her dashing from one adventure to the next! 

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August 25, 2005
Another day in paradise. Tange, Zula and Flora savor the warm sunny days and compatible company. Today the resident family of wild turkeys came strolling down the road for a visit. The elephants are quite comfortable with them under foot.

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August 23, 2005
The weather has cooled a bit and the girls are taking advantage of the mud. Tange and Flora enjoyed a playful wallow in the mud hole followed by a covering of dirt. All three are perpetual motion moving in and out of camera range all day and night. They definitely got their exercise today!

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August 22, 2005

Tange, Flora and Zula continue to amaze us with their seemingly overnight transformation into a bonded group. Each day they become even more calm and attentive to each other. Zula is so relaxed that she approaches Flora head to head, exchanging trunk touches and responding with deep guttural rumbles. They are sharing food, mud holes and each others company.

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August 20, 2005

The day we have waited a year and a half for; the African elephants have chosen today to become a family. They are all together and from the looks of it cannot get enough of each other. Over the past year and a half not a day has gone by that caregivers did not evaluate what more could be done to help Flora and Zula come to terms with their mutual desire to be in charge. Zula approached the issue with calm patience, trying to win Flora’s acceptance as the leader of the herd, but Flora refused to relinquish. Flora tried to win the position of leader by brute force. Her volatile response to Zula’s calm insistence would result in bouts of physical interaction that tested both elephants' strength, agility, coordination and self confidence. The two are well matched, but where Zula excelled in maturity Flora surpassed her opponent in sheer fearlessness.

The weeks and months passed and Zula never gave up trying to win Flora over. She spent hours engaging her over the fence line. The interaction would get rough and then become a synchronized dance of intertwined trunks, ears and heads. Tange often pushed her way into the mix but more often then not she was pushed to the side as Flora and Zula were singularly focused on each other. Over these many months it was apparent that Flora and Zula were both determined to be the leader, neither wanting to back down to the other. Tange just wanted everyone to get along. For a few months we thought it best that Tange share her time between Zula in the large habitat and Flora in the adjacent area. Each time we would release Flora in the larger habitat she would eventually become overtly aggressive towards Zula. Things changed when we observed Flora become unnecessarily pushy with Tange. It seemed that Flora no longer enjoyed Tange’s company and Tange showed little interest in Flora as well. This situation caused us to reevaluate our approach to Tange, Zula and Flora’s simulation into the habitat.  

The decision was made to give all three elephants the time and space to make the transition in their own time, on their own terms. In all fairness to the elephants we allowed ourselves to consider the possibility that they might not ever get along. Over the next several weeks Flora and Zula were observed in affectionate exchanges over the fence line. Their relationship was changing. Today turned out to be the day that an agreement was reached and they decided that indeed they did want to be together. It was glorious to see all three spend the entire day together, playing, grazing, browsing and napping, never more than several feet from each other. Admittedly Zula remains cautious, not completely convinced that Flora will not take a jab at her but by evening all three where in the barn, side by side, calm and content. Today was a day to rejoice; Tange, Zula and Flora are now a family!

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After this entry was posted we received an e-mail that reminded us that August 20 is the anniversary of TYKE’S death; the African elephant, owned by the Hawthorn Corporation, who after killing her trainer during a circus performance was gunned down in the streets of Honolulu. Tyke was only 21 years old, the same age Flora was when she came to the Sanctuary. Believing strongly that there are no coincidences, the uncanny similarity between Tyke’s life and Flora’s is sobering. The e-mailer writes… “I always thought Flora reminded me of a lucky version of Tyke.”


August 2, 2005

Tange and Zula discover a new area of the habitat; the trees provide a perfect refuge from the heat.

Tange and Zula are such good friends.


July 20 , 2005

Tange, Zula and Flora continue to explore their environment, and make new friends. There is a continual flow of abandoned dogs and cats that make their way to the Sanctuary and the elephants have come to enjoy their company. Several weeks ago a pregnant cat found refuge with us and in the past month 4 more abandoned dogs have found Sanctuary. The elephants are more than willing to share their space. Tange gets goofy when there is a dog or cat in her yard. She lowers her head and drags her trunk on the ground as she runs in a mock charge towards the intruder. Zula and Flora on the other hand show no sign of concern of any kind. Flora has been observed allowing one of the canine newcomers to eat from her grain dish. When a cat or dog approaches Zula, she stands completely still so as not to frighten them away. The girls are doing well, enjoying the mud, the sun and the company.

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July 10, 2005

Tange loves to chase things. Today it was the little cottontail rabbit that hangs out in one of Tange’s favorite areas. The rabbit hopped back and forth across the road several times. Tange ran after her in a mock charge. Soon the rabbit tired of the game and was gone.

  Tange chases a rabbit


June 25, 27, & 29, 2005

Photos captured with the EleCam and put into an animated slide show.

Animated Slide Show


June 18, 2005

Flora, Tange, and Zula are thriving at the Sanctuary.

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May 28, 2005
As the sun sets, Tange and Zula appear to glow in the dusk light, peacefully browsing in their habitat.

Tange and Zula peacefully browsing in their habitat


May 23, 2005
Staff spent the afternoon helping Zula get out of a mud wallow that has served as an enrichment activity since her arrival. She and Tange were playing when Zula lost her footing. She slid into the mud and onto her side. At first it appeared she was panicked because she let out a roar but she quickly relaxed when caretakers and Tange came to her aid. A caregiver was watching as Zula slid into the mud wallow and was able to give an eye witness account of the incident. With the help of many bales of hay as support and Tange as a “forklift”, Zula slowly positioned herself from her side onto her sternum and up onto her feet. It was remarkable to see how calm she remained while figuring out how to get out of her sticky predicament. There was some concern about her problematic hips but once she was up and out of the mud she showed not signs of distress or fatigue. In fact, within hours she was back in the mud wallow more confident than before.


May 10, 2005
It is hard to believe that the African elephants have been here for more than a year. Their assimilation into the habitat was immediate and from what we see, quite beneficial for each of them. Today a caregiver was able to catch Zula on film when she took advantage of a fallen tree to scratch a really big itch!

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April 24 , 2005

Tange, Zula and Flora in all their glory!

Tange, Zula, Flora


April 8 , 2005

Zula finds another unexplored area of the habitat to keep herself engaged.

Zula explores


April 4 , 2005

As result of life in captivity, Zula had suffered from the pain of arthritis for years prior to coming to the Sanctuary.  Thanks to all the exercise she now gets, her condition is much improved and climbing a hill like this one is no challenge.

Zula climbs the hill with ease

Today was a day of fun and mud for all of the elephants, but the Africans appears to have an edge on the art of mud baths! Nothing brings us more joy then to watch the elephant engage in abandoned play, seemingly oblivious of anything around them. With each day they grow stronger and healthy, in both mind and body.

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March 13 , 2005

Flora and Zula continue to engage each other with energetic play. They were playing for almost an hour this evening. Tange would wander over and join in on the fun for a few minutes and then wander off again.

Flora and Zula playing


March 12 , 2005

Zula makes a treat out of a tree branch. One of the many benefits of a natural habitat is access to a variety of vegetation suitable to the species. Tree branches are not only nutritious fodder, they also provide hours of enrichment.

Zula and the tree branch


March 10 , 2005

In celebration of Flora’s 23rd birthday and first year anniversary at the Sanctuary, her lifelong guardian and friend David Balding along with wife Laura and members of the Ahali Elephant Foundation sent bushels of fruits and vegetables for Flora to share with her sisters. Thanks to the volume of produce given, Flora, Tange and Zula will be enjoying these goodies for several days.

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March 3 , 2005

Today is Flora’s 22nd birthday and her first anniversary at the Sanctuary. From the moment of her arrival Flora has proven to be remarkably intelligent and independent. She has a strong sense of self and a clear image of how she feels things should be. She has formed a wonderful friendship with Tange. The two spend a great deal of time together exploring the habitat and hanging out together. Flora continues to insist that she be dominant over Zula but that arrangement is not yet settled. Even though Zula is 10 years Flora’s senior, Flora insists on being dominant. While they bicker over who gets to call the shots, Tange takes advantage of being the focus of attention. While she works to bring her two friends closer together she enjoys the best of both worlds, sharing the companionship of both Flora and Zula.

Happy Birthday Flora!

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February 24, 2005

Tange has been dividing her time between Flora and Zula. Most days she is with Flora and at night she's with Zula. This arrangement is working out well for all three girls. Zula and Flora continue to work on their relationship, and with Tange going back and forth between the separated habitats the pressure is off Zula and Flora to “hurry up and become friends”. As far as herd dynamics, we have seen over the years that when it comes to elephants, three is really not a good herd size. The dynamics can be conflicting, two picking on a third or as the case with our African elephants, two competing for the third. We look forward to the arrival of other African elephants in the future. Until then Tange appears to be content being the peacemaker, dividing her time between her two best friends.

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February 22, 2005

Tange has decide that she likes tires too!

Tange likes her tire


February 19, 2005

It is hard to believe that a whole year has passed since Tange and Zula arrived at the Sanctuary. They so gracefully assimilated into their new environment it is as if they have always been here. Their days have been spent exploring new spaces and making new friends, human and animals alike. Not only have they shared their new home with Flora and a bevy of wild turkey, recently two adopted kittens have moved in to share their space. It is exciting to see Tange and Zula respond to new sights, sounds, and critters. The most rewarding part is observing them savor the freedom to simply be an elephant.

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February 5, 2005

Although this photo was taken this past summer we thought you would like to see how Flora eats her watermelons—dainty and whole!

Flora loves watermelons


February 2, 2005

Flora has been spending most days in the BIG yard with Tange. Today the EleCam field camera found Flora at one of the many mud wallows. She spent close to 30 minutes playing until she had covered her entire body with rich protective mud.


January 31, 2005

Flora walked into the restraint chute and onto the scale to be weighed. She was calm and confident. She weighed in at 10,125 pounds; a big girl without an ounce of fat on her.

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Nap time is a serious matter at the Sanctuary. The elephants have their favorite locations and time for catching their beauty sleep; usually during the daylight hours. According to researchers, day time is when wild elephants sleep as well, leaving the night time hours for foraging, communing and walking. Today caregivers were fortunate enough to see Zula get up from a nap. She had chosen a soft bed of mud in which she left a lasting impression.

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January 25, 2005

Now that Scott has more time to spend at the African barn he has begun target training with Flora. This training allows greater flexibility for caregivers to comfortably work around an elephant. It is also an important tool for conditioning the elephant to voluntarily participate in standard procedures such as foot trimming, blood draws, baths and non-invasive physical examinations.

Flora is a quick study and curious. Within minutes she understood that Scott wanted her to touch the target with a particular part of her body; head, foot, ear. She did great. At first she offered simple tricks that she had learned in the circus. When those responses were ignored by the trainer (she did not receive a treat for it) she waited for an indication of what Scott wanted. He placed the target near the body part he wanted her to touch and she responded.

This type of conditioning is called protected contact training and utilizes only positive reinforcement. The elephant's participation is invited but if she does not care to participate that is her choice. It is up to the trainer to make the session interesting and rewarding enough so that the elephant wants to participate. In Flora's case, she was extremely interested, a willing participant.

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Tange and Zula in their habitat.
Tange and Zula continue to immerse themselves in the habitat, daily.


January 22, 2005

Tange and Zula have been in and out of the restraint chute several times over the past week. Today the caregivers were able to snap photos as the girls as they entered the chute and stood on the scale.

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January 19, 2005

Today started out cold. The pond had a thin layer of ice but that did not deter Tange and Zula from a romp in the mudhole. They had a blast!

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January 9, 2005

Tange and Zula tried out their new scale. They did great! This is the first time either of these two elephants have stepped onto a scale. Although they were curious, they were also cautious and decided not to place all four feet on the platform just yet; maybe tomorrow.

Tange on the scale
Zula on the scale

January 5, 2005

African elephants use their tusks and feet to excavate mud wallows, a continually expanding project. They stand on the edge of the mud hole and pry away chunks of dirt, then grind the dirt down in the water with their feet, creating more mud. The mud is then spread all over their body in two fashions; by rolling around in it and flinging it onto their bodies with their trunk. Today Zula spent some time at her personal mud spa. Later in the day she and Flora were seen interacting at the fence line. They spend quite a bit of time each day developing their relationship. It is obvious that they both perceive themselves as the dominant individual. Only time will tell if one will finally allow the other to be the dominant individual on a permanent basis.

Slide Show  (The mud bath)

Slide Show  (Flora and Zula interacting)


January 3, 2005

The weather is mild and the rain has been a daily occurrence which adds volume to the creeks and mud holes. Tange loves to excavate the mud hole and she is an expert at it.

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