The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

The Elephant Sanctuary FAQs

  • How suitable for elephants is the weather in Hohenwald, TN?
    The weather in Hohenwald, TN is quite similar to the weather in natural areas where elephants live, with comparable temperatures that range from 30° to 110°. Both Southeast Asia and Hohenwald, TN are classified as sub-tropical, sharing similar climate, weather conditions, terrain, vegetation and growing season; both provide suitable conditions for elephants to thrive. On average, only in the month of January is it cold enough during the day for the elephants to seek the shelter of their heated barn. Even on a cold day, many of the elephants spend some periods of time outside, while others choose to stay inside during cold weather.

    See more detailed information on the weather.

    Why Hohenwald is good for elephants.

  • How do you know how the elephants feel?
    Elephants are very good communicators. They convey information about how they feel through verbalization and body language, much the same way as humans do. Over time, living with and caring for elephants makes caregivers sensitive to the elephants’ moods and needs.

  • How many elephants live at the Sanctuary?
    Fourteen elephants currently live at the Sanctuary.

  • How far do they walk in a day?
    Each elephant is an individual, but on average the elephants that live at the Sanctuary walk 3 - 15 miles each day.

  • What is an elephant's natural habitat like?
    An elephant's natural habitat is much like the Sanctuary; pastures, wooded areas, streams and ponds. This is why this piece of property was chosen for the project.
  • Why can’t people come to see the elephants? (But we wouldn’t expect them to do anything; we just want to see them.)
    As a true Sanctuary we are not open to the public. The public's affection and fascination for elephants is shared by many. This fascination to see elephants up-close and personal often has resulted in living conditions unsuitable for the world’s largest land mammal. Facilities exhibiting elephants have put the needs of the public before that of the elephants in their care. As a result, elephants can be confined to small spaces without adequate room to roam, and forced to submit to human keepers. We strive to raise public awareness about the needs of elephants, and to provide them the freedom to just be elephants.

  • What is a day like in the life of a Sanctuary caregiver?
    The elephant's morning begins around 6:30 a.m. with breakfast, supplements, a bath and any procedure required, such as a foot soak. The Girls who have elected to spend the night inside the barn are pampered and ready to go outside around 7:30 a.m. As one or two caregivers tend to the needs of the elephants inside, another loads up the groceries on our "meals-on-wheels" 4-wheeler and heads out into the habitat to find the other elephants and give them their breakfast. It is standard to have a variety of things being done all at the same time. The elephants dictate what happens and when. One caregiver usually starts cleaning the barn while another cleans the area outside the barn and refreshes the water in the water troughs.

    The barn is cleaned daily. The project consists of sweeping all of the manure and soiled hay from the barn floor into the track that runs along the back wall of the barn. Once the manure is run out of the track, the floor is washed. A pressure washer is used to clean underneath and on top of the rubber floor mats that cover the entire barn floor. Once the cleaning is complete, the manure track is run out into a manure spreader. The spreader is driven out into the pasture where it is used to fertilize the fields. The entire cleaning process, from beginning to end, takes two caregivers nearly four hours to complete.

    At the same time the barn is being cleaned, another caregiver makes sure that all of the elephants outside have wandered away from the barn. If an elephant remains close to the barn, the caregiver encourages her to go off and explore, graze and interact with the other elephants. The way this is accomplished is with a 4-wheeler and some produce. The elephants are attracted to the noise created by the 4-wheeler. Sissy and Winkie will follow it anywhere. Once the elephants have been led away from the barn and into the habitat, the caregiver leaves and the elephants begin to engage in normal elephant behavior.

    Afternoons are consumed by diet preparation, cleaning, restocking, facility maintenance, and record keeping.

    Around 4:00 p.m. caregivers begin the process of preparing for the 6:00 p.m. feeding. Some elephants choose to remain outside 24 hours a day while others come inside after dark. In an effort to encourage the elephants to utilize the habitat, their diets are brought to them. Baskets of produce and grain are labeled and placed on the 4-wheeler. A small wagon is towed behind with bales of hay, browse and other dietary supplements. Foot-soak buckets and foot-trimming tools are also loaded up for the elephant requiring a foot soak or trim. Two caregivers head out in search of elephants. When located, the elephants are given their supplements, grain, produce and any medical procedure required out in the habitat.

    There is another feeding at 10:30 p.m. The routine is nearly identical as the 6:00 p.m. feeding. The supplies are loaded on the 4-wheeler and the elephants are located in the habitat. Since elephants only sleep 4 hours in a 24-hour period, it is nice to have activity in and around the barn for extended periods of time throughout the day and night. The elephants do a great deal of interacting with each other during the early hours of the morning.

  • How many acres does the Sanctuary own?
    The Sanctuary currently owns 2,700 acres, complete with a 25-acre spring-fed lake. The Asian elephants currently have free-choice access to 2,200 acres of this land while the African elephant habitat encompasses 300 acres.

  • How many elephants can live on that amount of land?
    The Sanctuary will be able to care for over 100 elephants on the current 2,700 acres.

  • What continents do elephants come from?
    Elephants are indigenous to Southeast Asia and Africa.

  • How long are the elephants inside the barn each day?
    Some days the elephants are not in the barn at all. In the dead of winter they are usually inside from sunset until 9:00 a.m.

  • Why are you helping elephants when there are so many people who need help?
    All of the creatures of our planet need and deserve protection. We help elephants because that is where our expertise lies. By helping elephants we are also helping people to understand the interconnectedness of all creatures.

  • How do you find out about elephants that need to be rescued?
    There are fewer than 600 captive elephants living in zoos and circuses across the United States. We are aware of all of them, their condition and their circumstances. Some we know about first-hand, others from information provided by people interested in animal welfare.

  • Is it safe to transport an elephant in the back of a semi trailer or railroad car?
    Although elephants are intelligent and physically coordinated and can balance in a moving vehicle for short periods of time, prolonged transportation in a moving vehicle can cause fatigue. Circus elephants are transported nearly year round. The travel can become grueling, causing undue stress for the elephant. An elephant’s need to walk, posture comfortably, consume live vegetation and socialize with other elephants is not possible when confined in a transport container.

  • Do elephants lie down in the trailer?
    Most elephants do not lie down during transit, which disrupts their sleep cycle, making fatigue common.

  • Is it true that lying down for a long time can hurt them?
    Lying down is normal, but staying on their side for prolonged periods can put pressure on their internal organs, causing labored breathing and reducing circulation throughout the body.

  • Who designed and built the elephant barns at the Sanctuary?
    Scott Blais and Carol Buckley, co-founders/co-directors of the Sanctuary, designed and contracted the construction of the barns.

  • What is the capacity of the current Asian elephant barn?
    It can hold up to 18 elephants.

  • What do the Sanctuary elephants eat and how much?
  • Elephants are herbivores by nature. They consume approximately 150 pounds of plant material, fruits, vegetables and grain each day. With the exception of infants that nurse for nearly six years, they eat no diary products or meat. In the wild and at the Sanctuary the elephants eat grass, leaves, small tree branches, bamboo/cane, grapevines, root plants and wild fruits (blueberries, blackberries, persimmons). We supplement their diet with hay, mixed grains and produce.
  • How much does their care cost per month?
    Food, dietary supplements and regular veterinary care cost approximately $1,000 per elephant, per month. This does not include operating costs and salaries.

  • How much water do they drink?
    A full-grown elephant will drink approximately 30 gallons of water per day.

  • How do you medicate them?
    Under the direction of our veterinary care team, we use traditional medicine to care for and treat our elephants.

  • How well can they hear?
    An elephant’s hearing is quite keen. For example, an elephant can detect infrasound communications traveling through the earth for distances up to 30 miles.

  • Do they come and go as they please?
    The elephants have free-choice access from their barn to their habitat except on very cold nights when we must close the barn doors to contain the heat for their protection.

  • Do they sleep outside?
    When temperatures rise above 38 degrees the elephants usually sleep outside.

  • What is the gestation period for elephants?
    22 months

  • Are there any plans for a breeding program at the Sanctuary?
    We believe that elephants belong in the wild, not captivity. We do not support captive breeding of elephants because there is no program to reintroduce elephants back into the wild. Therefore, there is no conservation effort for this species. They are being bred to be on exhibit for their entire life in zoos and circuses.

  • Is their skin tough?
    An elephant’s skin is not tough. It is sensitive and vulnerable to sunburn, insect bites and cuts and scrapes from adventures in the woods.

  • Why do they throw dirt on their backs?
    The natural behavior of dusting is what elephants do to protect their skin from sunburn, insect bites and the cold.

  • Do they ever get a bath?
    Any elephant inside the barn in the morning receives a bath with a warm water hose. They also bathe in the ponds and stream of their own accord whenever they choose, nearly every day.

  • Do they ever fight with each other?
    Female elephants thrive in a group and seldom act aggressively towards each other. Like humans, you will occasionally get two elephants that don’t get along that well. There can also be conflict when groups of elephants are trying to establish a pecking order or figure out how to properly interact with each other.  Generally these issues are worked out over time when the elephants are given their own space for extra security and safe interaction.

  • Are they afraid of the dogs?
    Most elephants arrive at the Sanctuary afraid of dogs but they soon become desensitized and accept them. Some elephants, like Tarra and Sissy, grow to love the dogs.

  • Are dogs afraid of them?
    Some dogs are afraid of some elephants but generally they coexist fine.

  • How do you keep the barn so clean?
    A lot of hard work goes into keeping the barn clean. The barn is equipped with a manure removal track and a pressure washer. The floors are cleaned every day and disinfected once a week.

  • What are the licensing and fencing requirements?
    We are licensed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the United States Department of Agriculture. Both agencies require an eight-foot high perimeter fence to keep people out.

  • Do you take Asian and African elephants?
    Until Jan 2004 we only accepted Asian elephants. In Feb 2004 we completed our first African elephant barn and accepted our first African elephants; Tange, Zula and Flora. Since it is not natural for the two species to co-mingle we provide separate, fenced off areas from each other.

  • How are Asians different from Africans?
    The species are different in many ways; physically, emotionally, intellectually as well as diet, behavior and language. It is accurate to say that the only thing they have in common is a trunk.

  • How many employees do you have?
    We have 27 full-time and 2 part-time employees.

  • Where do you find interns and employees?
    Prospective employees and interns find us as result of newspaper articles, television coverage and our web site.

  • How old are the girls?
    Tarra - born 1974
    Shirley - born 1948
    Sissy - born 1968
    Winkie - born 1966
    Tange - born 1973
    Flora - born 1982
    Misty - born 1964 (estimated)
    Minnie - born 1966
    Liz - born 1957
    Debbie - born 1971
    Ronnie - born 1966
    Billie - born 1953
    Frieda - born 1966
    Dulary - born 1963

  • How long do elephants live?
    In the wild elephants live 60 to 70 years.

  • Do they live longer in captivity or in the wild?
    They definitely live longer, healthier lives in the wild. Sadly, the average life of a captive elephant is usually cut short. The average age of a captive elephant is only 40 years.

  • Why don’t you have any male elephants?
  • In the wild female elephants live in matriarchal herds, separate from the males. At the Sanctuary, we make every effort to create a situation that duplicates the wild. However, in November of 2009, we were contacted by the USDA and asked to provide a temporary home for a captive-born, male elephant named Ned who was being confiscated from his owner. Very little information was provided about Ned’s condition aside from the fact that he was seriously thin. Shortly after he arrived we learned that his condition was not easily diagnosed, and that it was serious. After five months of round-the-clock veterinary care, Ned started to lose strength and passed away on May 15.

    While the Sanctuary generally only accepts female elephants, we are open to accepting males in situations such as Ned’s.

  • Where do most of your donations come from?
    We are a non-profit organization. All of our donations come from individuals from all around the world. We receive no federal or state funding.
  • What is Project Diane?
    Project DIANE is a consortium of teleconference providers and users who make teleconferencing available to students of all ages. Teleconferencing is our number one educational tool.

  • How do you get the elephants to do what you want them to do?
    We practice protective contact in the care and management of our elephants. At no time do we command our elephants or force them against their will. The elephants are taught through a system of positive reinforcement and respect. Once the elephant understands what is being asked of him/her, the caregiver simply makes a request and the elephant is free to respond or not.
  • How much do the elephants weigh?
    Tarra – 8,600
    Shirley – 9,000
    Sissy – 8,000
    Winkie– 8,400
    Tange - 9,200
    Flora - 10,000
    Misty – 10,200
    Minnie - 11,130
    Liz - 6,020
    Debbie - 10,380
    Ronnie - 7,880
    Billie - 8,450
    Frieda - 6,370
    Dulary - 8,508