On a warm summer weekend in late August, a very special group of 16 visitors from various states converged at The Elephant Sanctuary’s Discovery Center in downtown Hohenwald. These volunteer elephant ambassadors (EleAmbassadors) have all completed outreach training with The Sanctuary and are actively educating their local communities about the needs of captive elephants and crises facing elephants in the wild. These EleAmbassadors traveled with a vision and a purpose – to expand their knowledge of The Elephant Sanctuary’s mission, to learn about the personalized care of its 11 elephant residents, and to grow as committed volunteer ambassadors for The Sanctuary. The Elephant Discovery Center opened its doors with a welcoming spirit, friendly smiles, and great plans for the comprehensive training of these 16 individuals.
On Friday evening, August 23, 2019, the Ambassadors were greeted by The Sanctuary staff and given a tour of the Elephant Discovery Center, an outstanding, hands-on style learning center. The evening concluded with a get-acquainted, enjoyable welcome dinner at the Junkyard Dog, where the volunteers were joined by more staff and members of The Sanctuary's Board of Directors.
On Saturday, the group completed a volunteer service project on The Sanctuary grounds, creating three feeding enrichment devices from donated firehose. These “braids” will house bamboo stalks, hay, and other elephant dietary items and be hung from trees and fence lines for the elephants to discover during their explorations. This activity demonstrated some of the challenges of keeping the elephants engaged and curious about their natural environment.
The group was also invited to do a walkthrough tour of one of the elephant husbandry barns, guided by The Sanctuary’s Husbandry and Veterinary staff, where they learned about the behavioral management techniques used at The Sanctuary and how staff use positive reinforcement to reward elephants for their participation in their own healthcare.
The latter part of the day was spent back at the Elephant Discovery Center where the group created a “vision” for the EleAmbassador program, learned about talking points for presentations at exhibit booths, and participated in educational activities designed for children.
This fantastic volunteer training experience concluded on Sunday morning with group brainstorming of EleAmbassador action plans, and individual goal setting. This most rewarding weekend was packed with purpose, enriched with experiential learning, and formed new bonds of friendship. My first visit to charming Hohenwald, Tennessee was delightful and heart-warming. The friendliness of the local residents, the great food, and welcoming spirit will surely bring me back again. Thank you Hohenwald, I’m so happy that you are host to The Elephant Sanctuary.
- Linda McLean, Ele Ambassador from Commerce Twp, MI