At the heart of our management philosophy lies the belief that elephants will help each other heal and live fulfilling and meaningful lives, and that this process is best served within a spacious, natural environment of abundance, diversity and freedom of choice.
The Sanctuary provides a forever home for elephants in need, helping them live their lives to the fullest extent possible as elephants. We offer an environment in which they can heal from the damage brought on by their former lives in captivity. Even within such a nurturing environment, expert human care is essential. Caregivers and veterinary staff at The Sanctuary must at times interact with our elephants to implement preventive veterinary care and supportive care when animals are ill or have sustained injuries.
At its inception, The Sanctuary discarded the ankus (a sharp instrument used for four thousand years to control elephants) and all other tools of domination, whether mental or physical. All of our elephants, from the day they arrived, have been managed using only positive reinforcement, encouragement and patience. Initially The Sanctuary used Passive Control, which allowed staff to work with elephants without a barrier between them. Now, Protected Contact (or PC) is the management system of choice. PC developed as concerned animal caregivers became increasingly aware of animals' natural behaviors, psychological needs, and methods of humane behavior modification. We preserve all that is good about the previous philosophy of Passive Control within PC.
In a PC system, elephants choose whether or not they wish to cooperate with their Caregivers. The caregiver does not enter the elephants’ space in order to engage with them and does not attempt to dominate. Contemporary knowledge of elephant behavior, modern facility design and progressive animal management concepts have shown that human domination of elephants in order to train them is an archaic concept, and many progressive facilities have moved away from it. At The Sanctuary our elephants, many of whom have had brutal pasts, know they are secure behind a safe barrier, while the Caregivers are also protected. The success of the PC system is dependent on interactions of respect and trust between Caregivers and elephants.
Traditional Free Contact elephant management programs require elephant keepers to step into the elephant's space. The intention is to get 100% compliance through domination. In an effort to avoid injury or death, the keeper often has traditionally tried to assume the role of an unusually aggressive matriarch. Positive reinforcement may be used when the elephants cooperate, but punishment is implemented if an animal chooses not to cooperate or attempts to assert its own dominance. This type of system was developed in Asia, thousands of years ago for use in warfare and logging. It was transferred to circuses and eventually it was incorporated into zoo elephant husbandry protocols as the only known means of managing elephants.
Today, we know better. Although there is one elephant who leads the herd in times of crisis (the matriarch) she does so without brute force, while at times other elephants in the herd can make a decision. 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.
Another critical aspect to the well-being of elephants in captivity is access to other elephants within vast and diverse habitats. Elephants spend a great deal of time traveling, eating and socializing. Huge, diverse habitats and appropriate social groupings have a positive influence on an elephant's behavior and health. Spacious habitats allow elephants to separate if individuals are not compatible on any given day, and diverse habitats relieve boredom for these highly intelligent animals. Ample opportunity to roam helps maintain healthy feet and limbs and, along with proper diets, strong bodies.
In large habitats, socially challenged elephants, those who were removed from their families at a young age or those kept in solitude, have the opportunity in their own time to develop the ability to relate to other elephants.
Elephants thrive in a natural environment that suits their bodies, physiology and behavior. In a modern, spacious facility, utilizing Protected Contact elephant management, elephants no longer live in fear of punishment and are never again dominated by humans. The Sanctuary, utilizing state-of-the-art barns and hundreds of acres of habitat, accommodates both the physical and behavioral adaptations of elephants.
Modern science recognizes that choice lies at the heart of good animal welfare. All else considered, the more control an animal has over its life, the better its welfare. At The Sanctuary, elephants are allowed freedom of choice about decisions that affect them. Choices such as whom they spend time with and when, what and where they eat, and when and where they sleep are choices that each elephant is free to make for herself. Deciding when and where to graze, when to submerge in a pond or enter the woods and how long to remain there are all decisions that may seem simple but are vital to the well-being of the individual elephant.
Caregiver knowledge plays a key role in this system. An acute understanding of elephants’ behavior as a species and as individuals is essential.
CONCERNING THE CHAINING OF ELEPHANTS IN CAPTIVITY
The Elephant Sanctuary opposes chaining in the management of elephants. Modern facility design alleviates the need for this archaic and physically detrimental practice. Any institution that exhibits elephants must design facilities and develop practices that enhance the caregiver’s ability to provide excellent husbandry while ensuring both caregiver safety and the welfare of the elephant(s) in their care.