HOHENWALD, Tenn. (May 13, 2003) The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tenn., has embarked on a mammoth project, expanding from its current 200-acre habitat and six resident Asian elephants to an enormous 2,700-acre natural habitat preserve that can sustain up to 100 elephants of both species.
Until now, the residents have been strictly Asian elephants retired from zoos and circuses across America, but the expansion means that for the first time African elephants will call the Elephant Sanctuary home. Three African elephants are scheduled to move to the Sanctuary later this year. Two are zoo elephants and currently reside at Chehaw Wild Animal Park in Georgia; the third is a performing elephant, the namesake of Circus Flora.
Inspired by eight years of successful operation and remarkable support from its growing membership, the Sanctuary has decided to take on this $6 million dollar expansion. The preserve will be divided with separate habitat and facilities for each species. This is appropriate since Asian and African elephants have different languages, behaviors and dietary needs.
Nashville businessmen, architect Cary Dunn and long-time Sanctuary supporter and engineer William Dudley of BEAC, Inc., have donated their services to design an elephant house rich in natural lighting, perfectly suited for a species that naturally spends their entire life outdoors. Tony Shankle, owner of Principle Builders Group, Inc., has worked pro-bono with both the engineer and architect in preparation for building the barn. Construction began in May and is scheduled to be complete by October.
The Elephant Sanctuary is the largest natural-habitat refuge developed to meet the special needs of elephants. It is the only place in the U.S. where elephants have free access to a habitat where the climate and vegetation are similar to their native homes. Tennessee is nearly a perfect fit, and the Sanctuary provides a heated barn for the short period in winter when the nighttime temperatures are colder than the norms of wild elephant country.
A dream of co-founders Carol Buckley and Scott Blais, the Sanctuary provides a retirement option for old, sick and needy elephants. Before sanctuaries, no such option existed for hard-to-place elephants. There were only roadside zoos, circuses or euthanasia. Life is hard for elephants in such places. Buckley explains, "Elephants are highly intelligent and very socially complex animals. In captivity, some elephants still live solitary lives, and many only have one companion. Nearly all are so starved for emotional connection and mental stimulation that they exhibit abnormal behaviors like head bobbing and swaying." She adds, "Elephants are also migratory by nature, and walk 30 to 50 miles a day in the wild. In nearly all captive situations, elephants are confined in small yards or chained in transport containers, holding areas or parking lots. Circus elephants are often chained for 20 hours a day." This kind of confinement leads to chronic foot problems and arthritis that shortens their life.
The Elephant Sanctuary is a non-profit organization, licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency. It is supported by public donations and has plans to fund-raise in order to pay for the land expansion, new barn, additional fencing, support facilities and the cost of transporting elephants. For more information about how to become a member or make a donation, call (931) 796-6500 or visit the web site at www.elephants.com.
Elephant Sanctuary Expansion Overview
African Elephants Coming Soon to the Elephant Sanctuary