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Elephant Sanctuary

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Nonprofit Overview

Causes: Animals, Protection of Endangered Species

Mission: The Elephant Sanctuary exists to provide captive elephants with individualized care, the companionship of a herd, and the opportunity to live out their lives in a safe haven dedicated to their well-being; and to raise public awareness of the complex needs of elephants in captivity, and the crisis facing elephants in the wild.

Results: The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is the nation's largest natural habitat refuge developed specifically for endangered African and Asian elephants. The Sanctuary operates on 2,700 acres in Hohenwald, Tennessee—85 miles southwest of Nashville. Since 1995, The Sanctuary has given safe haven to a total of 27 elephants retired from entertainment and exhibition, providing them with herd, home, rest, refuge and individualized care for life. As an accredited sanctuary, the habitat where the elephants live is not open to the public. Instead, nearly 3 million viewers annually observe these elephants just being elephants via live-streaming Elecams on our website at www.elephants.com.

Target demographics: older, sick and/or needy elephants

Direct beneficiaries per year: 13 elephants. Educational outreach on elephants was made available via Distance Learning to nearly 2,153 K-12 students in seventeen states and one foreign country. Seventy-one new EleAmbassadors were trained as volunteer representatives for The Sanctuary in 29 U.S. states and 2 Canadian provinces. Nearly 1,400 visitors attended educational programs held at The Sanctuary's Welcome Center in downtown Hohenwald, TN. And 2.9 million individuals experienced The Elephant Sanctuary online.

Geographic areas served: Hohenwald, Tennessee

Programs: habitat care, nutritional care, health care and educational programs.

Community Stories

100 Stories from Volunteers, Donors & Supporters

Donor

Rating: 5

I fell in love at 6 years old with Alice, the first elephant I've ever met. Since the Elephant Sanctuary opened, I discovered a way to have that connection again, later in my life, by supporting this organization that offers a life home to retired zoo and circus elephants. The work and dedication the staff brings to enrich the lives and help "the girls" live out their days in rural Tennessee should be reconized and embraced for keeping the sanctuary a private place. Their outreach via the website and social media helps one be part of the elephants world and contribute to their well being and care. Support The Elephant Sanctuary today.

Diane201

Volunteer

Rating: 5

The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee is an absolutely amazing facility. The care and love for these beautiful creatures is evident in many ways from the 2700 kept acres they provide for these retired elephants to roam to the daily foot care routine. The elephants are free to be elephants again. They are no longer for the amusement of humans; therefore, there are no tours. As one of a few people chosen to volunteer for a day of work, I did see some of the elephants but from a distance and never for extended lengths of time. The staff does this to make sure that the elephants do not get anxious or feel they are on display again. It's a TRUE sanctuary run by people who most definitely understand, love, and care passionately for these once abused and ill treated beauties. They ensure that retirement is as blissful as possible. I wish more elephants were this lucky.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a volunteer day at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee (TES). On a beautiful October day my partner and I made our way to the Sanctuary’s Elephant Discovery Center, where we met up with the other volunteers and the Sanctuary’s Education Manager, Todd. We followed him to the grounds of TES, where we spent a thoroughly enjoyable day assisting in various tasks (painting, clearing brush, etc.). We had all been emailed in advance to notify us what activities we would be participating in and what items we needed to bring, so everyone was well prepared with water bottles, sunscreen, etc.
Having done volunteer work for other groups, I found this experience to be one of the best organized and enjoyable endeavors I have undertaken. Todd kept us well informed about the Sanctuary and its operation. In addition, we learned a great deal about elephants and the problems they face in captivity as well as in the wild. We had the opportunity to spend a gorgeous fall day in beautiful middle Tennessee and though we were warned there was no guarantee we would see elephants, we caught a glimpse or two of these majestic animals. All in all this was a fantastic opportunity I hope presents itself again. The Elephant Sanctuary is a very worthy cause that I was happy to volunteer for.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

It was an outstanding experience. It was hard sweaty work, but so worth it. The staff was so sincere about their commitment to the elephants. They were also very helpful and informative. I learned so much. It was an uplifting and rewarding experience.

2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

This is a private Sanctuary who allow visiting volunteers to participate in improving the property only 8 times a year. You have to sign up for a lottery and hope to be drawn for opportunity to help.

My experience was everything that I hoped for. It was made very special through the stories from Stephanie and Todd helped us understand through the day. We would ask a million questions and it help to reveal the true love this staff has for their elephant family. They know them all by name, history and behavior. They are awe struck on their families' improvements as they get introduce on how to be a free elephant. Some take moments, other take months, but the time does not matter, they all the time they need to be free.

Please image for the first 30 - 40 years of your life, you were confined, poked, prodded, and chained. You had to do things unnatural or get punished. Then finally one glorious day you are given the chance to move to the Elephant Sanctuary. You are still in disbelief.

OH MY.... First you can't believe the unfamiliar freedom and positive reward the humans give you. You have never felt this kind of love and friendship. Then you get to discover other female elephants who want to get to know you and be friends. Really, others like me who want to be my friend? I don't know how to act.

Heaven on earth. That is the best way to describe what might be going on inside the minds of the lucky ones who get to live the rest of their MANY years at the 2, 700 acre private sanctuary. NEVER again on display or having to perform for humans.

Just being an elephant. Doing elephant things. And having humans who care.

Peace

2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

We were able to volunteer for an afternoon and it was so amazing to be put to work for such a good cause. Visiting the sanctuary is a unique experience and the volunteer experience makes me feel closer to this charity that is doing good for these elephants. I would highly recommend this experience and donating your time (and money) to this charity. It's a beautiful area and I feel lucky to have been able to go.

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I volunteered at the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN the summer of 2016, We traveled from Ohio and arrived ready to roll @ 8:00 am. We painted the stall of an African elephant named Sukari...a beautiful girl with long white tusks. We were informed she rubs her tusks on the bars frequently and therefore a paint job was needed. While we were painting we sneaked peeks at the 4 African elephants in their yard. They are magnificent animals! What an absolute joy to be a part of their world for one day :) After painting, we traveled to the Asian Barn and ate in a nice air conditioned lunchroom. More staff dropped by to answer any and all questions we had about these elephants and elephants in general. After lunch, we weeded grapevines growing into fencing. When complete, we traveled to the "Q" barn. Q for quarantine as some of the elephants have medical issues. There we witnessed the vast area in which they live. We saw 3 Asian elephants peacefully eating and sharing companionship with each other. For the first time in their lives, they can decide what they want to do! This is their retirement home. It was a privilege and honor to give back to these elephants who for years were abused and forced to live in substandard conditions either in circuses or zoos. It was an experience of a lifetime! I hope to return again soon. Judy Volkerding

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I was very excited to be selected for a volunteer day at the Elephant Sanctuary, even though it meant working outside in the July heat for most of the day! I appreciated the opportunity to help in any way that I could (weeding and painting barn doors), and I thoroughly enjoyed my fellow volunteers. It was amazing just how far most of them had travelled to be there. Getting to see the Sanctuary in person was priceless for me. It hit home just how much devotion and hard work it must have taken to grow this place into what it is, which is nothing short of astounding!

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

I have been donating and volunteering at the Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, TN for many years. I have been privileged to participate on 4 separate occasions. Each and every time I learn something new about the elephants that the Sanctuary cares for and come away with a deeper sense of urgency to make others aware of the plight of elephants who are still in zoos and circuses in the U.S. as well as the world. The Elephant Sanctuary staff make us all feel special and a part of the mission to care for these elephants, whether we are pulling weeds, painting doors, clearing brush, etc. It is all for the greater good of the elephants to be allowed to be free and interact with each other in their natural environment. Kudos to the Elephant Sanctuary for 20 years of great work....here's to at least 20 more years.

2

Donor

Rating: 5

I have been a supporter of The Elephant Sanctuary beginning the first year and have the honor of serving as a board member. We receive regular updates from CEO which includes detailed reports from caregivers about the elephants. These reports are profound evidence of the professional knowledge and respect and love the caregivers have for the elephants as individuals. In a perfect universe there would be no captive animals. In the world we inhabit my wish is that all captive animals would have an environment comparable to the sanctuary and would be respected and loved as the elephants at The Elephant Sanctuary.

2

Board Member

Rating: 5

As a member of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee Board of Directors, I am enormously proud to be a part of this outstanding organization! TES is providing superb national leadership in the humane and scientifically sound care of captive elephants. Every time I meet with the caregivers, veterinarians, office staff and fellow Board members, I am reminded of what an outstanding team is working collaboratively to enhance the care of the elephants at TES.

TES is an extraordinarily challenging endeavor: acquiring the land, providing the strong protective fencing, building the barns, recruiting the care staff with both dedication and knowledge, creating the educational programs, developing relationships with the community and regulatory authorities, attracting skilled veterinarians and elephant husbandry leaders, among many others, as well as raising the funding to permit all this good work to happen.

To all this, the commitment of the CEO and staff is both passionate and exemplary. The "girls" thrive in this environment of dedicated caring and competence. They arrive often unwanted, ill, aging and physically compromised. They are renewed, have their medical needs attended to, are comfortable in their heated barns in inclement weather and find joy in exploring the forest and ponds when the sun shines - as it so often does in Hohenwald.

All is done with gentle persuasion; the elephants live in a free-choice environment. This takes great skill and understanding by the caregivers. In all, TES represents the highest standard for captive elephant care in America. This is a profound accomplishment. The welcome mat is out for further elephants to join our happy girls.

2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

It's an honor to write a review for The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee since I have been affiliated with them for over 20 years as a founding member. What started as a small Mom and Pop operation with one elephant has evolved into a massive project with a 4.5 million dollar annual budget. They've rescued 27 elephants and are making room for dozens more.

The reason that this matters so much is that elephants are among the most profound creatures on earth. Their history in captivity is not pretty and the poaching of their tusks is an indescribable crime. Most people do not know of the intellectual wisdom of elephants. Their elaborate brains contain, like humans, VENs (Von Economo Neurons) which are specialized cells that relate to higher notions like empathy, intuition, communication and self-awareness. These neurons are unusual in the animal kingdom and help explain the complex and deeply sensitive nature of elephants. I am proud to say that TES is fulfilling its mission daily by protecting and housing these wonderful elephants and by teaching the world about their value to us all!

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Being a volunteer at the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary was an enlightening experience that very few people get the chance to do. I learned so many things about each elephant and about animal rights. All the people I met during my time were so friendly and hard working. You could tell that every person had a passion to be there. I am thankful that I was able to have this educational experience and will tell others about the great things this sanctuary has to offer!

Keep up the amazing work!

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

After spending my week at The Elephant Sanctuary as an Alternative Break volunteer, I was blown away. When applying for the trip, I had no idea where the location would be, nor that I would be able to see such magnificent creatures as elephants. I am a Biology major, so animal conservation is something near and dear to me. This caused me to approach the opportunity very critically. However the staff's professionalism and their desire to educate others were astounding. It was also extremely satisfying and peaceful to see the elephants left to enjoy themselves and live out the rest of their days in peace. It was such a meaningful experience to volunteer for a more-than-worthy cause, and I plan to continue supporting TES and the wonderful work that they do.

3

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Let's talk about the elephant in the room: this organization is dazzling. Every person that works here is committed to the mission statement. It's hard to understand the magnitude of that, I know. But in a world where most people go to work, punch a clock, and collect a check without really LIKING what they're a part of, it was refreshing to be surrounded by a staff who pounded the pavement every day for these elephants.
That being said, the experience was nothing short of remarkable. And I don't use that word lightly. In literal terms: remarkable means something worth making a "remark" about. And so here we are. It's hard to express in words how palpable the week was when I volunteered. Imagine this: earth, wind, and fire are mighty elements that can disrupt and change things. So too was the service, education, and reflection throughout the week. It was satisfying doing the work, but it without the education from the staff and the reflection at nights from my group it would've been just taxing labor.
I've written 1 review in my entire life before this. It was for a book that really changed my way of thinking. I felt obligated to write it since it did so much for my self-growth. But I don't fling them out like newspaper. So know that me writing this is a testament to how revered I see this place - and how much I was impacted by it albeit during a week's stay.

They're doing something profound out there in Hohenwald, Tennessee and slowly putting the whole world on notice.

2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

The Elephant Sanctuary has the elephants welfare truly at heart. The sanctuary is truly "a sanctuary" allowing elephants to roam freely for acres at their own desire. The staff never makes an elephant do something that she is not interested in. Other than the veterinary care, they operate using a very hands off approach, making the sanctuary the most natural habitat possible for an animal who has been in captivity. The caregivers do not want the elephants to feel that human interaction is necessary, as some elephants have been scarred by humans in their past lives in circuses or zoos. I commend the Elephant Sanctuary for their practices. They proceed with caution with every interaction and keep both the elephant and the caregivers' safety a top priority. The Elephant Sanctuary understands the needs of an elephant and works hard to meet those needs every day. I could not imagine a more perfect place for an elephant to retire.

2

Volunteer

Rating: 5

My group spent a week volunteering with the Elephant Sanctuary and it has been a pivotal experience in my life. With this extended amount of time and good weather we were able to see every single elephant on the property and had the pleasure of witnessing Sissy swimming! The volunteer work was not as direct as I had originally anticipated, but the tasks did vary which kept things interesting. Lastly, I most appreciate the staff of the Elephant Sanctuary taking time every morning to tell us more about the mission and the individual elephants. In this way we were educated about the elephant sanctuary and were able to start our days with some renewed passion to help the elephants in any way we could.

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Got a spot on the Elephant Sanctuary's group volunteer day in November 2015 and spent the day raking and bagging lots of fallen leaves for enrichment for the elephants. The weather was (fortunately) cold and wet which made the elephants come close to the Asian elephant barn rather than roaming out in the 2,700 acres of the sanctuary where the general public is not allowed. The barn has heated floors and special flooring to cushion their feet, as well as safe enclosures for each elephant. We ate our brown-bag lunches in a viewing area near the barn and were able to see 5 of the Asian elephant population - but were also cautioned not to stay too long or take too many photos so as not to cause too much anxiety.
This for me is the most impressive part of the Elephant Sanctuary program and mission- they are so sensitive to the elephants' need for privacy and freedom (after a past of exploitation and often violent control methods or even abuse) that they restrict almost all public access to the elephants to remote video cams. While they choose their volunteers (like me) from a pool of people who have supported the sanctuary via a volunteer lottery, they only allow up to 20 volunteers at the Sanctuary 1 day a month 10 months out of the year to work on group projects, while keeping the group closely supervised. As a volunteer you are not guaranteed to see any of the elephants - as they are no longer on exhibit for our gratification but rather have a true sanctuary for their own gratification. But the point is to make these elephants' lives a little better and understand the contrast between their relative freedom and more natural lifestyle compared to the plight of the many elephants still in inhumane captivity.
A total of 14 Asian and African elephants currently live on the sanctuary in a very secluded and well-hidden refuge. (Through the years this organization has been able to rescue 27 elephants from zoos, circuses and other restrictive environments - and has also lead the way toward developing and teaching more humane methods of treating captive elephants). The sanctuary has big build-out plans so that they can take in more and more elephants from inhumane situations as well as to enhance their public education programming.
This organization faces unique challenges - how to promote an animal sanctuary that is not open to the public in the usual way while attracting support from that same public for the expensive operations of caring for such large animals in compassionate ways - plus also advocating for a change in the way our society treats elephants in captivity. They walk that fine line with creativity and passion.

Colleen McMullen

1

Volunteer

Rating: 5

Wonderful.
Knowing I was doing something to benefits those majestic animals
was humbling

1

Donor

Rating: 5

Great cause! There care for the welfare of elephants is inspiring. The elecams are a great way to share the experience