FACILITIES & ELEPHANT CARE
In the heart of Hohenwald, TN...
Since 1995, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee has provided elephants retired from performance and exhibition with a safe refuge and the companionship of other elephants. The facility has grown from 110 acres to 2,700 acres and has provided sanctuary to 27 elephants, making it North America's largest natural habitat refuge for captive elephants.
The Elephant Sanctuary maintains three separate habitats with heated barns, solar water pumps, hay storage buildings, spring-fed lakes, pastures and woodlands, fencing, four onsite security houses, and miles of internal maintenance roads. Wherever possible, The Elephant Sanctuary uses energy-efficient materials to reduce overhead costs. Secure fencing, sound structures, and dependable machinery are an absolute necessity for a Sanctuary that is safe for both elephants and people.
The Facilities Team includes Director of Facilities, Supervisor, and eight full-time Maintenance Staff. The Team also includes a full-time Safety Coordinator and a Commissary Manager focusing on increased safety and reduced costs.
Today at The Elephant Sanctuary, the elephants are managed in a Protected Contact (PC) system using positive reinforcement. Along with a spacious natural habitat and access to others of their own kind, the elephants at The Elephant Sanctuary receive individualized veterinary and husbandry care, diverse environmental enrichment, and the freedom of choice.
Whole Elephant Care
The majority of the elephants now living in captivity were captured from the wild before the age of two. Separation from their families and bonded social groups at a young age often negatively impacts their social development and behavior as adults. Elephants imported to North America as recently as the 1980s for public entertainment were trained and managed using the traditional methods of negative reinforcement or punishment and in a method based on humans being a dominant member of the herd.
The Elephant Sanctuary continually works to assess the impact of captivity in evaluating the health, social and psychological wellbeing of individual Sanctuary elephants and in planning for their lifetime best care.
Expansive, diverse habitats, and appropriate social groupings have been shown to have a positive influence on an elephant’s overall health, both physically and mentally. An animal’s behavior is the standard for judging physical and psychological wellbeing. When given the opportunity, elephants will spend a great deal of time traveling, eating, and socializing. Spacious natural habitats allow elephants the choice 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 and move at their own preferred pace helps maintain healthy feet, joints, and limbs.
Whole Elephant Care at The Elephant Sanctuary is provided by a Team comprised of Director of Veterinary Care, Associate Veterinarian, Registered Veterinary Technicians, Director of Elephant Husbandry, Elephant Care Manager, and 15 full-time Caregivers. Caregiver staff undergo extensive training on elephant behavior, husbandry, and all of the aspects needed to properly care for elephants as a species but also learn to care for the specific and individual needs of the elephants that call The Elephant Sanctuary home.
To meet the daily needs of elephants in care, The Sanctuary provides:
- Food, including browse, hay, fruits, vegetables, and treats. Mazuri, grains, and fresh produce are purchased from a variety of sources including local farmers.
- Supplements to address deficiencies and health issues common to aging elephants in captivity.
- Ongoing husbandry care and medical treatment including foot care, pain medication, laser therapy, and routine radiographic monitoring of chronic illnesses such as osteomyelitis.
Protected Contact (PC) Management
All elephants at The Elephant Sanctuary are managed in a Protected Contact (PC) system.
The Sanctuary defines Protected Contact as: a system for managing elephants that uses positive reinforcement training as the primary method to modify behavior; the use of physical punishment is prohibited. Directing the positioning and movement of the elephant is achieved through the use of targets and positive reinforcement. Caregiver safety is achieved by elephant and Caregiver positioning relative to each other and to a barrier, which typically separates human and animal spaces.
In the PC system, Caregivers function outside the elephant social hierarchy and do not attempt to establish a position of social dominance. If an elephant chooses not to cooperate, at no time is physical punishment used to achieve compliance. Elephants choose whether or not they wish to cooperate with Caregivers. A fundamental aspect of The Elephant Sanctuary is the belief that elephants need access to other elephants, vast and diverse habitats, and the 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.
Behavioral Assessment and Management
Behavioral assessment and management are important components of how the elephants are cared for at The Elephant Sanctuary.
The Sanctuary defines Behavioral Management as: a pro-active approach to managing captive animals to provide the best care and the highest level of wellbeing. Diverse environmental enrichment and positive reinforcement training are two fundamental techniques. Consideration is given to operational procedures and facility issues that may impact behavior, and these are modified when necessary. Approaches are continually assessed and measured to determine if behavioral goals have been met and if methods for managing behaviors have been successful. A behavioral management approach has tremendous potential to directly and positively affect changes towards each elephant’s enhanced wellbeing. One of the most important and challenging components of the management system used at Sanctuary is the concept of time. Elephants at The Elephant Sanctuary are allowed to operate at their own time, not ours. Although they are creatures of habit whose movements can be anticipated, their movements are not directed unless necessary for their own health. They are not ruled by our time clocks or schedules; instead, the Caregiver Staff will adjust their daily routine to accommodate the needs and actions of the elephants.