Elephants are some of the most advanced creatures among us. They have incredibly complex physical and mental/emotional needs. Unfortunately, humans have found ways to turn these gentle giants mad through aggression and malnourishing tactics.
Circuses, zoos, and other “for the people” atmospheres are more detrimental to an elephant’s health than most seem to think. Everything from social isolation to walking on hot concrete destroys these magnificent beasts and contributes to their endangerment.
The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN is one of very few environments where elephants are able to retire from the poor treatment that they receive and are encouraged to go back to a natural way of elephant life. At the sanctuary, human contact is kept to a minimum while they are still physically and emotionally cared for. The elephants are encouraged to be elephants. Sadly, taking care of elephants requires a lot of hands and a lot of funding. That’s where you come in.
As a true sanctuary, visitors are not permitted. It is important to remember that the girls reside in habitats, not exhibits. They are not on display. However, donors and curious minds are welcome to watch the elecams on the sanctuary website (www.elephants.com) where cameras are strategically placed to capture the elephants’ behavior. Elephant lovers can also visit the welcome center in Hohenwald, where merchandise is sold (which can also be found online) and questions can be answered.
The sanctuary also participates in various educational opportunities. Eleambassadors like me volunteer time to distribute information and give talks about the sanctuary to bring awareness and possibly donations. It costs well over $500 each day just to feed all 13 elephants, let alone provide all the extra care that they need. The sanctuary regularly asks for these donations along with special items that you can directly provide funding for, such as expensive vitamins, treats and enrichment items, trucks for sanctuary upkeep, hay, and pedicure materials; the elephants are so accustomed to a captive environment that they do not often take advantage of the mass acreage that they now have access to, which hurts their made-for-travel feet.
Since its inception in 1995, the sanctuary has aided 27 elephants who came to Hohenwald from various zoos and circuses. 13 elephants currently reside on the 2,700 acre property, three of which (Rosie, Sukari, and Hadari) came from a tiny habitat at the Nashville zoo in late 2015. Each elephant is given extraordinary, individualized care. The girls (all are female, as females are more common and don’t get along with males) are separated into three habitats: Asian, African, and quarantine. The quarantine habitat is designated for elephants who have been exposed to tuberculosis, which is a common disease among captive elephants. Tuberculosis is spread through bacteria in the air and has not been reported among wild elephants. As elephants are very social creatures by nature, especially females, it is important that affected individuals are housed separately and given extra care.
If you are not yet convinced that elephants need your help, get this: elephants are a keystone species. That means that several other species rely on elephants, and their extinction will change the entire ecosystem. In the past 100 years, there has been a 90% decline in the Asian elephant population and a 75% decline in the African elephant population, which is split into two species: Savanna and Forest. Herds that once consisted of 80 or more females have dwindled down to 15-20 females. A lot of this is the result of capture for breeding and entertainment, but even more of it is the result of hunting for sport and ivory. There is a strong demand in Asia, especially China, for ornaments and jewelry made from ivory. Part of the problem with this is that ivory hunters look for the biggest tusks and end up killing alpha male bulls, which puts a huge damper on breeding. Killing that one elephant can end an entire herd.
You might have thoughts along the lines of, “it’s okay if she was born into captivity,” but zoo elephants have not evolved enough to be comfortable in a small zoo environment. They might become contentedly lazy and lose the desire to travel 50 miles a day, but that is going to hurt them. Their feet will be destroyed, they will likely become overweight, and their inability to socialize will send them mad. At the end of the day, keeping elephants in captivity is not okay, no matter the case.
At the sanctuary, the elephants are encouraged to live as they would in the wild. They are never fully in contact with humans; the only physical touch they may receive is from a highly trained caretaker who needs to file down their nails. Otherwise, they are allowed to roam the 2,700 acres as they please. They can play in the water, converse with each other in their special language, and do as elephants do with no constraints. They are never chained, trained, or forced into anything, and you can help these efforts.
You can help spread awareness of the dangers of keeping elephants in captivity, and help fund the medical attention that the hurt girls at the sanctuary need. You can make a difference.