Elephant Care


The Challenge




Our Caregivers Speak

Why an Elephant Care Appeal?

You Can Help!

Scott, Winks, and Sis

Introduction: Elephant Care at The Elephant Sanctuary
Elephant Care refers to the human element of the Sanctuary's innovative form of elephant management. We currently operate three completely separate and independent elephant facilities on a single parcel of land, consisting of a 200-acre quarantine facility, a 300-acre African facility and a 2200-acre Asian facility, each equipped with specialized barns and fencing, and staffed with trained caregivers working in two shifts from 7:30am until 11:30pm, seven days per week. Additionally, we have five caregivers that live onsite who are available at a moment’s notice in case of emergency. The work is extremely labor intensive and emotionally demanding; two essential and unavoidable components of our innovative management system. Many elephants living in captivity suffer wounds so deep that by the time they come to us they are a mere shell of an elephant. Through our comprehensive treatment system we are able to accomplish our mission to facilitate each elephant's emotional and physical recovery. As Charles Siebert pointed out in his remarkable New York Times story, the Sanctuary's passive control system is quite similar to the philosophy of human trauma sufferers, and is in fact a form of healing therapy.

Caregiver knowledge and attitude plays a key role in this system. An acute understanding of elephant behavior is essential. We have found that a caregiver, sensitive to elephants and void of any desire to dominate, will be the most effective. The ability to question everything you thought you knew about elephants and their management primes you for success in this system.

From the moment an elephant arrives at the Sanctuary she is managed according to our passive control system, a non-dominance management system developed by the Sanctuary. Traditional elephant management focuses on a keeper's dominance over the elephant. It has been customary for the care and management of elephants to be dictated not by the elephant's nature but by the keeper's resources, which are often limited. We have found that modern facility design and progressive management philosophy can make the need for a keeper's dominance over elephants obsolete.

Elephant CaregiversIt is important to note that passive control does not allow a caregiver to dominate an elephant. The success of this system relies on a mutual respect between the caregiver and the elephant. Without the respect and trust of the elephant, even the most skilled caregiver cannot work safely in this system.

Field observation of wild elephants suggests that this species does not operate as a pure hierarchy but rather in an intricate social structure of individuals who relate to one another independent of the herd. Although there is one who leads (matriarch), that leader does so without brute force. Leadership qualities, which include wisdom and experience, are the tools by which the matriarch commands respect and cooperation. Therefore, it is reasonable to believe that elephants in captivity do not need to be dominated to be managed. Instead, they will cooperate with an individual who has proven himself or herself by exhibiting leadership qualities.

The Elephant Sanctuary leads the way in training our caregivers to employ this new and progressive system of elephant management. The Sanctuary elephants have demonstrated that interaction with other elephants and with their human caregivers is necessary for their recovery. These are not 'temporary' interactions but rather long-term relationships based on mutual respect and trust. The elephants who find their way to the Sanctuary are not ours to keep; they have been entrusted to our care. This is why the term "caregiver" is used at The Elephant Sanctuary to describe the person who tends to our elephants' every need. The term caregiver exemplifies our respect and mission to offer every possible kind of care necessary to assist each elephant in her healing process. Caregiver is a term which suggests support and assistance, void of dominance.

The Challenge
Loves long hours, physical work, anxious to drive a tractor and possesses a good degree of self-awareness. Why are all these important? Elephant caregiverIndividuals applying for a caregiver position must first and foremost understand that they will be dealing with a highly evolved species. The challenge is to find the right people with commitment, compassion, and dedication. The Sanctuary's form of elephant manangement is not only best for the elephants but also very labor intensive. Our caregivers work long hours providing for the elephants. They ensure that diets are custom prepared AND delivered to every single elephant no matter where she is in the habitat. With our founding herd covering the newly-expanded Asian habitat of over 2000 acres, this can be quite a challenge as the elephants can move miles every day.

Our elephants continue to make remarkable progress, thanks to the expert care provided by our caregivers and veterinary staff. Bunny’s constant companionship helped Shirley survive Jenny’s passing, while Sissy’s unconditional acceptance of Winkie has made her recovery possible as well. Delhi’s passing taught caregivers volumes, literally writing the first-ever volume on elephant hospice care. The Divas have no intention of looking back; their Sanctuary life agrees with them. Their non-stop daily explorations take them to the far reaches of their habitat. Flora continues to make a remarkable recovery from the devastating effect of past traumas, and her interactions with her sister elephants and caregivers has softened. Finally, she is benefiting from the freedom her new life offers, exploring her expanded habitat with confidence, even spending nights out under the stars. Our caregivers take great pride in their work, responding to each elephant's needs no matter how labor intensive or time consuming.

Sandra and FriendsWho are these caregivers and where do we find them! They are very special people and the right ones usually find us, but we have also begun an aggressive search to widen the choice of candidates. We are working with all of our animal welfare partners as well as our consulting staff, including Dr. Susan Mikota, to broaden the field where we advertise for our caregiver openings.

Question everything you know, read, and observe.

Carol and Scott feeding the elephantsOnce a caregiver is hired he or she is immediately sent a list of recommended reading. Each of these titles was chosen to improve knowledge in several areas including:

  • Elephant life in the wild
  • Elephants in captivity
  • General aninmal welfare

The caregiver's first days and weeks are spent as support staff. This is essential not only to know every detail of every elephants' diet and daily activities, but more importantly to begin to understand how to "be" around the elephants. Caregivers quickly begin to understand what the concept of space means to these elephants, and, as in all relationships, trust is a long-term process.

Training caregivers at The Elephant Sanctuary begins with teaching the basics of passive control management, which means that caregivers must understand that the elephant's needs always come first, and that the basic elements of passive control management are respected. With the elephants (and, of course, supervisors!) as teachers, these core elements are:

  • The importance of wide and diverse space for the elephants
  • Ensuring all basic needs—food, water, medical treatment are met in the locations wherever the elephants are
  • Ensuring that the elephants have the freedom of choice about the decisions that affect them
  • Building a relationship of mutual respect and trust within each elephant's time frame and comfort zone.

Our Caregivers Speak
Here are what our current caregivers have to say:

Q: Why were you drawn to the Sanctuary?

"Because it is one of the few animal havens that actually lives up to its standards."

"The Sanctuary is all about the elephants, freedom, space, no dominance ... heaven for elephants and me."

Q: What do you hope to accomplish at the Sanctuary?

"Making sure that the elephants have whatever they need to live as elephants."

"The understanding that when one suffers we all suffer. To help or offer to help one being who is suffering will hopefully lessen suffering in some being somewhere.."

"Through being a caregiver, witnessing how what I do effects the elephants’ social and spiritual growth, I may someday see a similar growth in myself."

Q: What in your background most prepared you for this?

"The development and practice of loving-kindness."

Scott giving Sissy footsoaks

Why An Elephant Care Appeal?
It is simple. We cannot fulfill our mission without trained caregivers in place and the funds to support them. We may have space in the habitat and space in the barn, but we need these very dedicated and committed caregivers in place. The elephants cannot fully heal without them.

You Can Help!
Click here to make a donation to our Elephant Care program.