The Elephant Sanctuary Adds Three Directors to Leadership Team

October 3, 2011


Brian Fulton
(615) 780-3327

HOHENWALD, Tenn. – Oct. 3, 2011 – The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee announced today the addition of three directors to its management team, each of them employed in newly-created positions. They are Dr. Susan Mikota, Director of Veterinary Care; Steve Smith, Director of Elephant Husbandry; and Joe Rizzo, Director of Facilities Development.

"As a safe haven for elephants, it is my goal to make The Sanctuary a model of excellence in elephant care through state-of-the-art facilities, first-rate healthcare and a highly skilled staff," said CEO Rob Atkinson. "To take The Sanctuary to that next level requires dedicated leaders in each area of elephant care, which is why I'm delighted to have Dr. Mikota, Steve and Joe join our staff."

Mikota is an internationally renowned elephant veterinarian and the world's leading authority on tuberculosis in elephants. Holding a Doctorate of Veterinary Medicine from the University of Illinois, Mikota is co-founder of Elephant Care International and a member of the Union for the Conservation of Nature's Asian Elephant Specialist Group. While this is the first time Mikota has held a position on staff, she has worked as a consultant to The Sanctuary since she moved to Hohenwald in 2006 to care for The Sanctuary's elephants exposed to tuberculosis.

Smith has worked hands-on with Asian and African Elephants for 15 years at various facilities. In addition to elephant care, he also brings a wealth of experience in personnel, financial and facilities management and most recently worked as the Director of Animal Care and Facilities with ECHO Lake and Aquarium and Science Center in Vermont. As Director of Elephant Husbandry, Smith oversees the non-veterinary care program for The Sanctuary's elephants, manages the caregiving staff and, with Dr. Mikota, ensures compliance with the requirements of federal and state regulatory agencies. He earned a degree in Animal Behavior from Purdue University and has a history of championing the importance of animal welfare.

Having worked with The Sanctuary for many years, on a contract basis, on numerous maintenance projects and the construction of our state-of the-art facilities, Rizzo will now take on much broader responsibilities as a fulltime staff member. As Director of Facilities Management, Rizzo is responsible for strategic planning of the fencing, road and pond construction and repairs, barn upgrades and overall facilities management. He also oversees the various habitats, waterways, barns, storehouses, staff houses, offices, machinery and vehicles throughout The Sanctuary's 2,700 acres.

"I believe each of these dedicated individuals will play an integral part in continuing The Sanctuary's vision of allowing our residents to simply be elephants," said Atkinson.

The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is the nation's largest habitat for needy, old and/or sick Asian and African elephants, and provides a spacious and rich natural environment in which captive elephants – typically retired from circuses and zoos – can spend their remaining years in peace. In addition to the home it provides for its elephants, The Sanctuary's mission includes the advancement of methods of humane management and care of resident elephants, and an international education program to raise awareness of the needs of elephants both in captivity and in the wild.

To that end, The Sanctuary has installed a unique system of solar powered, wireless cameras ("Elecams") throughout the three habitats – providing non-invasive opportunities for observation and education. The cameras are used in Distance Learning Programs for schools and community groups, as well as in educational activities and Caregiver presentations at The Sanctuary's Welcome Center in downtown Hohenwald, Tenn. The public is welcome to view all of the resident elephants through the Elecam feature on The Sanctuary's website,