Commemorating The Sanctuary's Vibrant History


Elephant Sanctuary is Founded

The Elephant Sanctuary is founded on 110 acres in Hohenwald, Tennessee. Tarra, a former performing elephant, is the first resident. Construction of the first barn is also completed.


Barbara Arrives!

Barbara, a former circus elephant, is the second elephant to find sanctuary in Tennessee.


Jenny Arrives

Thanks to an emergency fundraising campaign, elephant Jenny is brought to The Sanctuary from a Nevada animal shelter.


Barn for Asian Elephants is Built

A brand-new, six-stall barn is constructed to care for the Asian elephants.


Shirley and Jenny Reunited

Elephant Shirley arrives on July 6, 1999. After 25 years apart, Shirley and Jenny immediately recognize one another from their previous lives as circus elephants.


The First Elecam is Live

The first EleCam—a live-streaming video feed from the elephants’ habitat—goes live on elephants.com.


Bunny Arrives

Bunny retires to The Sanctuary from Meskar Park Zoo.


Sissy Arrives

Labeled a dangerous elephant, Sissy arrives at The Sanctuary after a public outcry regarding her treatment at the El Paso Zoo.


Winkie Arrives

Winkie arrives, also with a reputation for being dangerous. Sissy takes Winkie under her wing and helps her adjust to life in The Sanctuary.


Elephant Documentary Airs

PBS airs The Urban Elephant featuring Shirley and Jenny's reunion story. The piece is later awarded an Emmy and goes viral on YouTube.


New Land for The Sanctuary

The Sanctuary expands to 2,700 acres, making it the largest natural-habitat refuge for captive Asian and African elephants in North America.


Tina Arrives

Elephant Tina journeys 3,000 miles to The Sanctuary from Vancouver, B.C.


Delhi Arrives

Delhi becomes the first-ever elephant to be confiscated by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture. Upon arrival at The Sanctuary, she spends eight months in quarantine while undergoing treatment for tuberculosis, then joins the founding Asian herd.


Sanctuary Welcomes First African Elephants

Upon completion of a barn and fencing for African elephants, Tange and Zula arrive from Chehaw Wild Animal Park in Albany Georgia, and Flora is retired by her owner, David Balding. These three elephants became the first African elephants to retire in Tennessee.


Lota and Misty Arrive

Elephants Lota and Misty arrive at The Sanctuary after USDA orders their transferal from the Hawthorn Corporation, a company that leased animals to circuses.


New Asia Barn and Fencing is Built

A new Asia barn and fencing for 1200-acre habitat is constructed; the founding herd of Asian elephants migrates over to Asia. The Phase II barn is then converted to a full Quarantine facility (Q) to accommodate members of the Hawthorn herd—all of which arrive having been exposed to tuberculosis.


Eight New Elephants Arrive!

Lottie, Minnie, Queenie, Liz, Debbie, Ronnie, Billie, and Frieda are retired to The Sanctuary in the largest-ever government-sanctioned transferal of circus elephants.


In a tragic accident, Caregiver Joanna Burke died from injuries sustained by an elephant.


Dulary Arrives

Dulary is retired to The Sanctuary from the Philadelphia Zoo, and makes fast friends with Tarra, Misty, and Delhi.


Sanctuary Welcomes Ned

USDA confiscates elephant Ned and places him in the sanctuary to recover from his medical ailments. The first and only bull elephant at The Elephant Sanctuary to date, his health condition was so severe, he passed away six months after retiring to The Sanctuary.


Tarra and Bella Go Viral

CBS News airs a story on the unique friendship between elephant Tarra and her loyal canine companion, Bella. The story goes viral on YouTube. Bella passed away in 2011.


Welcome Center Opens

The Welcome Center on Main Street in Hohenwald opens to the public. Administrative staff moves into office space built to LEED standards.


New EleCams are Installed

Fourteen new solar-powered cameras are mounted throughout The Sanctuary grounds, offering live-streaming video of all three elephant habitats via the EleCam platform at elephants.com


Billie Allows Her Chain To Be Removed

Billie allows care staff to remove the last remnant of circus life from her body: a chain around her ankle.


Shirley Turns 65

The third-oldest Asian elephant in North America, Shirley turns 65. The Sanctuary throws her a birthday party––celebrated jointly via the Internet with those who knew her in Monroe, Louisiana (her former zoo home).


Last Chain on Billie Published

Carol Bradley publishes her non-fiction book focusing on Sanctuary resident Billie, Last Chain on Billie: How One Extraordinary Elephant Escaped the Big Top.


Picoult Novel Inspired by Sanctuary is Published

New York Times-bestselling author Jodi Picoult releases Leaving Time, a novel that describes a fictional sanctuary whose elephants are based on the true stories of those residing at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.


The Sanctuary's 20th Anniversary

Celebrating 20 years of providing herd, home, rest, refuge, and individualized care for life to retired captive elephants in North America, as well as raising public awareness of the complex needs and challenges of elephants.


Hadari Arrives

On September 24th, Hadari—a 33-year-old African retires to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee from the Nashville Zoo, joining Flora and Tange in The Sanctuary’s Africa habitat.


Sukari and Rosie Arrive!

Two African elephants Sukari (31) and Rosie (44) retire from the Nashville Zoo on November 4, and November 5, respectively. At The Sanctuary, they are reunited with Hadari.


Africa Habitat Expansion Opens

Africa Habitat’s 60-acre expansion—East Habitat—was opened to the elephants on August 4, thanks to the generous support of our donors who gave to the 2015 Year-End Appeal. The expansion area gives all the elephants access to new trails, mud wallows, forested areas, and the opportunity to choose how and where they spend their time.


Outdoor Classroom Opens

In August 2017, The Elephant Discovery Center’s Outdoor Classroom welcomed its first visitors. An open-air learning space, the Outdoor Classroom serves as a public walkway for Hohenwald, TN residents and visitors alike. The hands-on, self-guided exhibits teach visitors about the differences between the species and the ecological role elephants play in the wild.


The Sanctuary is Certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums

The Elephant Sanctuary is proudly certified by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums for demonstrating a commitment to exemplary animal care and welfare, educational and inspiring guest experiences, and AZA’s mission to conserve our world’s wild animals and wild places. Through certification by the AZA, The Elephant Sanctuary hopes for expanded conversation and collaboration opportunities with other elephant care professionals to promote and share best practices on issues of conservation and welfare impacting all elephants. The Elephant Sanctuary is the first facility of its kind to be dually recognized by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and the AZA.


Nosey Arrives

In early November 2017, a 36-year-old African elephant named Nosey was seized by Lawrence County Animal Control in Moulton, AL after concerns for her care and well-being were raised by the public. The Sanctuary was contacted to provide emergency care and welcomed Nosey with less than 24-hour’s notice.


Shirley Turns 70

For Shirley’s milestone 70th birthday, July 6th, Caregivers pulled out all the stops—creating a gigantic ‘70’ out of bamboo, strung with fresh flowers and produce and baking a vegan carrot cake layered with hay. The biggest surprise of all, however, was a visit from Shirley’s former Caregiver, Solomon James—his first visit since 1999.

Prior to her retirement at The Sanctuary, Shirley lived at The Louisiana Purchase Zoo and Gardens, where she was the sole elephant resident for 22 years. As Shirley aged, the zoo staff decided she needed more space and the companionship of other elephants. Her primary caretaker, Solomon James, accompanied Shirley on her journey to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Her arrival was captured by Argo Films and became part of the documentary, The Urban Elephant.


The Sanctuary Earns Re-Accreditation from the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS)

The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is proudly earned re-accreditation from the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) as of April 16, 2019. The Accreditation Committee “recognizes the crucial role that The Elephant Sanctuary plays in providing a permanent sanctuary for elephants in North America.” The Sanctuary first became accredited by GFAS Dec. 10, 2014.


The Elephant Discovery Center Opens to the Public

Increasing public knowledge is key to creating a world where elephants no longer live under constant threat of poaching, habitat loss, conflict, or capture. The Elephant Discovery Center, located at 27 E. Main Street, Hohenwald, Tenn., expands the learning opportunities available for visitors. The Elephant Discovery Center offers hands-on self-guided exhibits and educational programming that explores the many ways elephants shape our world.


Attenborough and The Giant Elephant Premieres on BBC America

David Attenborough investigates the remarkable life and death of Jumbo the elephant – a celebrity animal superstar whose story is said to have inspired the movie Dumbo. Attenborough joins a team of scientists and conservationists to unravel the complex and mysterious story of this large African elephant — an elephant many believed to be the biggest in the world. With unique access to Jumbo’s skeleton at the American Museum of Natural History, the team work together to separate myth from reality.

Attenborough visits The Elephant Sanctuary, which is featured in the film.


The Sanctuary Celebrates Its 25th Anniversary

The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee celebrates a quarter century of providing sanctuary — a safe, expansive natural space for elephants to explore and rediscover what it means to be an elephant with others of their own kind.

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