Why Only Females at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee?


It is not natural for adult female and male Asian elephants to live together. Asian elephants are matriarchal by nature; they live in herds of related females and only very young (nursing) males. Even more interesting is that the female herds are made up of related females; the grandmother, mothers, aunts, sisters, and nieces. They are truly a family, led by the oldest, wisest female.

Young males, still dependent on their mothers milk, remain in the matriarchal herd until they are completely weaned and exhibiting mock breeding behavior. Usually this is between 6-10 years of age, at which time the young male is forced to leave the herd. He quickly joins a group of other young males, but this arrangement is not permanent. Young males will change groups many times before they reach adulthood.

During this time young males are frequently observed shadowing adult males but seldom to never are actually seen interacting with the adult males. It appears that the adults serve as role models for the young males. By the time the male reaches thirty years of age he prefers to spend the majority of his time alone.

In November 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, 2010.

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