In Hohenwald, Tennessee, there is a 2,700-acre stretch of land like no other in the United States. It is the Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee. This vast stretch of land is home to numerous African and Asian elephants and their understanding caregivers. It is the largest place like it in the country and its reach is global.
The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee was founded in 1995 by experienced elephant trainers and elephant enthusiasts Carol Buckley and Scott Blais. Their mission was to create a place where elephants that need special care can get it, while enjoying a life that is as free from stress as possible and where they can roam in a natural habitat created especially for them. All of the animals Carol and Scott take in are former circus and zoo animals that have spent their lives being cooped up and handled extensively. The Elephant Sanctuary gives them a life that is free from those hindrances.
The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee contains three separate sanctuaries for the animals. There are specially designed barns and elephant “houses” on the property. Six years after the sanctuary opened, a 700-acre parcel was added to the property, which includes a 25-acre lake. Eighteen hundred and forty acres were added in July of 2003. Since that time, no more land has been added, but the most recent purchase is being improved for pastures. Elephants are known to roam tens of miles each day in the wild. The land at the Sanctuary allows them to do so comfortably, whereas zoos and circuses tend to keep them very cooped up by comparison.
If you want to see animals in captivity, go to the zoo, the circus or Las Vegas. The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee has no such animals. The environment they create there is as noninvasive to the creatures’ lifestyle as possible. The Sanctuary is not open to the public and the animal caregivers are not there to interfere with or control the natural behavior of its inhabitants.
The caregivers at the Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee use a technique called “passive-control” in the handling of the Sanctuary’s elephants. The animals do not perform and are not asked to bend to the will of the humans who care for them. No negative reinforcement is used and the animals are never denied food, water, shelter or social interactions. They are allowed to express themselves, as elephants are wont to do, without interference from caregivers. The animals are never chained, either. In fact, Sanctuary leaders are vocal in their opposition of this tactic, which is common in elephant handling.
The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee is home to only female elephants. At this time, there are 17 living there (one recently died unexpectedly). They keep only females because male and female Asian elephants do not live together in the wild. Nonetheless, the Sanctuary is open to taking in male elephants that are in dire need of care and has done so in the past. Sadly, their only male inhabitant was very ill when he was confiscated from his owner and brought to the sanctuary. Despite every effort from the Sanctuary, he passed away within months of his arrival there.
The Sanctuary is involved in several education programs, both local and global. Part of their mission is to educate children about elephants and the plight of the endangered Asian elephants. They have cared for 23 elephants in need thus far and are setting an example for the global community. These animals will not be around forever if we do not take responsibility for our part in their population decrease. Keeping them in zoos and circuses is not enough. In fact, it is only more of an affront and those elephant-lovers at the Sanctuary want to spread that message.
The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, retrieved 11/3/10, elephants.com/about/aboutSanctuary.php
Passive Control Elephant Management, retrieved 11/3/10, elephants.com/management.php
*This establishment is run entirely on donations and is a non-profit organization.