The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

African Ele-Diary 2006-2007

October 19, 2007

Tennessee weather has finally returned with its gloriously wild characteristics. Last night as all of the caregivers, less one, were settled in for a well deserved night's rest. The girls perched themselves on clear cut ridge tops and open valleys to fully immerse themselves in the weather that fast approached. It has been weeks, actually months, since we have felt the fierce power of Mother Nature rage through the Sanctuary; she has been missed. In the distance the night sky lit up fluorescent billowing clouds, illuminated by the flicker and flash of distant lightning. No noise at first and then wind began to rush through the tree tops, the sky began to howl, the trees swayed, cracked and some tumbled; the girls stood silent, inhaling the energy. Shirley, Bunny, Tarra and Bella were silhouetted on a clear cut ridge, horizon on all sides, faces pressed into the increasing wind; their eyes were placid, like they were in another realm. Maybe carried back to their childhood, standing in a family circle with elders telling them about the storms of their youth. It was powerful. The storm dumped lots of much needed rain and the temp remained balmy, glorious. We all got soaked to the skin, feeling more alive than ever. All is well.


September 24, 2007
After nearly one year, from start to finish, and $400,000, the new, spacious, African elephant-proof corral is complete. This mega project was result of the multi-talented and easily-bored Flora’s tinkering activities with the original fence. Flora kept us busy. From the day of her arrival Flora would tinker and we would repair. She would tinker some more and we would redesign. She would identify design flaws and we would redesign. She would tinker some more and again pin-point the flaw in the design and again we would redesign—until it was clear that a total remake was in order. We had no choice but to abandon the original corral and replace it with a heavy duty steel and concrete channel system.

Oh, yes, this will hold her in and allow her to divert her attentions to other activities which she has already exhibited; weed eating for one. Sandra and Vkivu can store the weed eater away for good because Flora is doing a better job than even the industrial size equipment. She has traversed step hills and wallowed in mud ponds while decimating the weed population.

What a joy to see her abandonment. With this priority project completed we are now focusing on yet another huge corral project using the same design in preparation for the next mighty African elephant that finds sanctuary with us. Flora deserves all the credit for the design of this mega-strong corral; she is the ultimate quality control inspector!

Slide Show


September 20, 2007
Gaze into their eyes and your perspective will be altered forever.

Zula's eye


September 18, 2007
You may be wondering what the African girls are up to. Well, they are enjoying their freedom and the pampering they receive by the caregivers. Today they joined Sandra as she filled up their drinking trough.

Slide Show


September 17, 2007
The new African pond.

Slide Show


July 1, 2007
Caregivers are continually looking for new enrichment objects to peak the elephants' interest. Our African girls are the best test crew for any object. If it passes Tange, Zula, and Flora’s test we know it is worth keeping. The empty beer kegs passed with flying colors!

Slide Show


June 30, 2007
One distinct difference between our African and Asian elephants is to the degree which the Africans adore MUD!

Slide Show


June 27, 2007
Tange is in constant motion with Zula always close behind. But today Tange left Zula in the dust as she headed out on her morning excursion.

Slide Show


May 3, 2007
Zula’s self confidence in the wilds of her new home has grown tremendously... each day is a new adventure for her. In the past, Zula followed Tange or at least wanted to be close to her while in the habitat, but now she is confident to set out on her own!

Slide Show


March 6, 2007
Flora arrived at the Sanctuary March 3, 2004. She celebrated her 3rd Anniversary at the Sanctuary with a delicious assortment of treats and a big blue ball.

Treats for Flora!

Flora and her treats

Meanwhile, the other Africans, Tange and Zula entertained themselves in the vast expanse of their habitat, enjoying the scenery.

Tange and Zula

A glorious vista



February 19, 2007
Even though our days are full with more projects then we could ever hope to accomplish, the girls always know they always come first. Today Tange and Zula celebrate their three year anniversary of Sanctuary…unbelievable, where does the time go? We are so pleased that when the Chehaw Wild Animal Park was making plans to phase out their elephant exhibit they asked us to take Tange and Zula. Even Flora got in on the celebration. Happy Anniversary Ladies!

Slide Show


December 30, 2006

Today Zula and Tange set off on an adventure that would last more than 24 hours, involve a trek up a steep hill, a temporary separation, a sleep over, and a series of confidence-building accomplishments. The hill they decided to traverse was quite steep; the attraction of uncharted territory was the lure. It was a beautiful sunny day with temperatures in the 60s. The night forecast was in the high 40s, so an overnight stay in the habitat was for certain. They started their journey around 10am and around 2pm Tange returned to the barn for a drink. Tange interacted with Flora, engaging in their normal trunk wrestling, but it was curious that Zula had not returned with Tange. As the sun began to set it was obvious that Zula had not returned so her caregivers set out with her evening diet, to locate her and determine why the change in behavior; Tange and Zula are seldom apart, so this was a definite change in behavior.

Zula was located in an area of the habitat that she and Tange had never explored before. To get to her location they had climbed down into the valley, crossed a shallow creek and traversed a very steep hillside. There was Zula calmly foraging in the woods at the extreme parameter of the property; they had both finally explored to the fence line. Since the weather was mild, there was no concern about Zula staying out overnight. But since Tange was not with Zula, it was decided that a caregiver would camp out with her. This being the first time she was alone in a new area of the habitat, we wanted to be sure Zula did not become concerned during the night. This may sound a bit over-protective but we feel that not knowing what her reaction will be throughout the night merits a caregiver on watch. Of course, if Tange returned during the night the caregiver would leave the two to their adventure.

As it turned out, Tange did not return to Zula but remained with Flora throughout the night and Sandra, the lead caregiver at the African barn, had the adventure of her life.

In Sandra’s own words:

"For Zula to climb this hill and explore new grounds is a huge accomplishment. It’s very important for her to know that we are not only here to provide food, water and shelter, but also to give her support and comfort she needs. As this was going to be her first night out alone and in a new part of her habitat, I decided to stay with her to give her support and comfort if she needed it.

Zula's night out

Armed with hay, water and food for Zula, and a hammock, sleeping bag, pillow and my dogs for my own comfort, I headed out to my sleeping place for the night. Zula appeared to be pleased with her new sleeping buddies and watched closely as I strung my hammock. After giving her some treats, Zula appeared ready to enjoy the evening as well.

Wow, what an experience…lying there in my hammock, looking up at the moon and the stars, looking to the side to see this amazing elephant standing there doing her own thing. After we chit-chatted for a little while about how lucky we both were to sleep underneath the stars, it was time to sleep.

As I closed my eyes I could hear her munching on the hay, slurping the water, and the sounds of her eating browse all mixed with richly deep rumbles. Wow, what a way to fall asleep!

Around 3 am, I awoke and was going to quietly attempt to get out of my hammock. As I had my own heating blanket, my dog Nemo, it wasn’t that easy to get out of the hammock, at least not quietly. So both Nemo and I fell gracefully, really gracefully, to the ground. Zula saw us and she let out a rumble of laughter and I’m sure that she had a big smile on her beautiful face.

The new day began with Zula eating her hay and looking at me as if she was saying...come on, wake up, it’s time to get my breakfast. I took down my hammock, gathered up my things, including Nemo, and headed off with Zula through the woods, looking for a good place to go back down the hill. Zula was browsing and in no hurry to go back down. Since Zula showed no anxiousness about returning, I set off on my own, returned to the barn to feed the other girls and then headed back with Zula’s diet and to see if she intended to return anytime soon.

I believe that it’s very important that Zula realize that she could get down the hill herself, so with encouragement, a lot of praise and treats she slowly started to come down the hill. By this time Tange had trekked out to join us. Tange rumbled and that’s all the encouragement Zula needed. As Zula made her way down the hill, Tange raced to greet her. They both were all rumbles and trumpets, trunk touches, and ear flaps; you could feel their excitement in the air. As these two happy friends were reunited, they continued down into the valley together, calmly munching on vegetation as they went, as if nothing had happened.

This was an experience that I will treasure for ever and never ever forget.”

Sandra de Rek
Lead Caregiver ~ Africa


December 23, 2006

Flora and the trunk wash

In a world all of their own, Flora, Tange, and Zula continue to thrive. Flora has made so many advances this year she is hardly recognizable. Her trunk wash conditioning was as much a game as anything. She was so engaged in the process, anxious to teach the caregiver how to collect a sample of sterile water from the upraised trunk of an elephant. The bonding that resulted is precious. One cannot help but grow intensely respectful of a ten thousand pound wild animal that gingerly manipulates her trunk and your heart, understanding exactly what the goal of the game is and - bingo - places her trunk right into the plastic bag and deposits the prize; a trunk wash sample. This feat was accomplished without a commanding word, just hours and hours of game playing. When watching Flora you clearly see that she trusts her caregivers and enjoys their time together. This mutual respect has resulted in Flora's desire to engage in activities that will ultimately help us better care for her.

Meanwhile, Tange and Zula are out and about; midnight strolls down to the valley, afternoon trunk wrestles over the corral with Flora, always fully engaged. By all accounts they are happy, healthy and seemingly carefree.


October 30 , 2006
Tange and Zula have explored about only 1/3 of their entire habitat. Amazingly, they are in no hurry to see it all too soon. It is wonderful to observe them casually wandering down paths of their own creation into wooded areas so dense they disappear. Their comfort in the habitat is obvious; we are so happy for them.

Slide Show


October 29, 2006
The simplest things can bring the most pleasure to our elephants. Today Flora got her personal pile of fresh shavings, and what fun she had! It is amazing that something so simple can provide hours of enjoyment. Elephants are insatiably playful, so the more fun they can find the better.

Slide Show


July 11, 2006

Zula and Nemo get acquainted


The Sanctuary takes in more than elephants; needy dogs and cats find their way to us as well. With three separate barn facilities, we have plenty of room for lots of stray dogs and cats. The protocol is always the same: feed them up, get them neutered, de-flea and de-tick them, and socialize them. Part of their socialization includes introduction to the largest creature on the property. In this case it's Zula meeting Nemo. Both seem very comfortable with the introduction.


June 9 , 2006

Flora is at it again. Her explorations are non-stop. She is in constant motion; walking browsing, tree felling, wildlife flushing, and mud wallowing. She is a very busy lady.

Slide Show



May 23 , 2006

Today Flora set out on an expansive exploration. Her curiosity kept her moving, continually. Strong and fit, she can maneuver the hilly terrain with ease. True to her nature, she circled the perimeter and then explored the interior. Her walk-about lasted about 3 hours, after which time she set out to find Tange and Zula.

Slide Show


May 9, 2006

Mud, mud, everywhere. This time of year it rains almost every day. The elephants love it! The Asians like to swim in the ponds, but the Africans like to wallow in mud holes. With painstaking patience and precision, they create their own custom mud wallows. Zula is the engineer and Tange is usually the quality tester. Today they wallowed for hours, never seeming to tire of the fun. The activity not only brings the girls hours of pleasure, it also keeps them physically fit.  There is nothing that African elephants enjoy more than a good mud wallow. These girls create their own catch basins that produce yards of mud and hours of fun!

Slide Show


May 3, 2006

Today when Tange and Zula set out on their morning adventure, a caregiver was along to snap some photos of their activities. These girls have come a long way from their sheltered zoo life to the freedoms of sanctuary life. Today one of their barn dogs raced past, not yet completely comfortable being too close to the elephants. The Africans continue to grow more and more comfortable with their surroundings; being in nature is easy for them now. They forge trails to preferred remote browsing locations and build secret napping ground nests in the woods.

Slide Show


April 21, 2006

Flora has been following her caregivers around all morning looking for attention. This is a good sign, so caregivers take advantage of Flora’s good mood and offer her target practice followed by a foot trim. Target practice is fun and easy; Flora excels. The object of target practice is to engage the elephant to present different parts of her body; foot, ear, tail, side, making husbandry practices easier for the caregiver. At no time is the elephant forced to participate but when she shows an interest the caregivers reward her with attention and treats. The target pole is plastic with a soft spongy tip. The target is placed out in front of the elephant and she is encouraged to touch the target with her body. This type of training requires that the elephant cooperative engage in the exercise, bringing her body to the target instead of the controversial dominance training which forces the elephant to or away from the trainer with the use of an elephant hook.

Slide Show

April 14, 2006

Things are starting to get green and the African girls are getting more EleCam time.

Springtime for the Africans


March 3, 2006

Two years ago today Flora arrived at the Sanctuary in all her glory! The ultimate circus diva, she was accompanied to her retirement home by an entourage of friends and family. Flora continues to make progress and enjoys her freedom.

Happy Second Anniversary to Flora!


February 19, 2006

It is hard to believe that Tange and Zula are celebrating their second anniversary at the Sanctuary. Their strong bond has deepened and they have both blossomed, continuing to be playful and curious. One of the most profound changes we see in them is their acceptance of other species in the habitat, including the domestic variety—dogs and cats. One thing that has not changed is their love of MUD!

Tange and Zulu's Second Anniversary at the Sanctuary

Slide Show


January 17, 2006

Zula, captured on the EleCam, enjoying the woods and the rain.

Zula - in the woods on a rainy day