The Scoop: In 1995, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee started with 110 acres to allow former zoo and circus elephants to roam free. Over the last 25 years, The Sanctuary has grown with support from generous elephant lovers who offer funding, time, and attention to the organization. Today, The Sanctuary comprises more than 2,700 acres of free-range land and has provided shelter over the years to 28 elephants retired from zoos and circuses. While The Sanctuary invites some lucky couples to volunteer on-site, others can be part of the organization’s mission by hosting fundraisers, giving to the nonprofit, or supporting conservation causes around the world.
Jeff from Philadelphia adopted an elephant, but not because he has an enormous backyard. He adopted Liz, a resident of The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee for his wife, Nicole, as a Valentine’s Day gift.
Since it was established in 1995, The Sanctuary has grown to more than 2,700 acres of free-range land. Now, the refuge houses 11 elephants that were once captive in circuses or zoos. Over its 25 years in operation, it has been home to 28 elephants.
After that Valentine’s Day gift, Nicole and Jeff applied to be volunteers at The Sanctuary.
General visitors are not allowed on the grounds, so only a select few can volunteer on-site, and Nicole and Jeff were two of the lucky few chosen. So the couples set off on a road trip to Tennessee.
“There was something really connecting about making the 14-hour drive for the sole purpose of contributing to a cause that meant a lot to both of us. It was even one of the reasons we’d bonded early on as friends prior to dating,” Nicole wrote in a testimonial.
Like Nicole and Jeff, many couples bond over their volunteer work or charitable giving. The Sanctuary continues to operate and expand because of those types of donors throughout the country.
“The Sanctuary provides an expansive natural space for elephants to explore and rediscover what it means to be an elephant with others of their own kind,” said Kate Mason, The Sanctuary’s Communications and Creative Marketing Manager.
Individuals, couples, and families can contribute to the nonprofit’s mission by raising money, donating, or spreading awareness about other vital conservation missions in the United States.
Couples Can Volunteer to Raise Awareness About the Refuge
The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee provides significant space for elephants that have spent much of their lives in captivity. A life of performing tricks is not suitable for these gentle, highly intelligent animals. Many of The Sanctuary’s elephants have behavioral or health problems because of their past treatment that will follow them throughout their lives.
“The Sanctuary employs a fully integrated team of veterinarians and caregivers who provide high-quality care and use positive reinforcement and protected contact to safely meet the needs of each elephant,” Kate said.
The nonprofit also offers elephants the freedom they lacked for so long, allowing them to roam the hills, lakes, forests, pasturelands, ponds, and streams of the property.
“With individualized care, room to roam, and opportunities to socialize, we have seen the incredible transformations of 28 elephants,” Kate told us.
Couples who love elephants may wonder what they can do to help. The Sanctuary offers three ideas for couples wanting to improve the conditions for elephants around the world.
First, they can donate money or resources to The Sanctuary or similar conservation organizations, which are always in need of financial support. Additionally, they could change their purchasing habits, so they don’t harm elephants.
Finally, The Sanctuary suggests that advocates seek solutions for better treatment of wild and captive elephants.
“Given the global crisis facing both captive and wild elephants, we partner with welfare and conservation agencies working in the field in areas of conflict to improve the conditions of elephants around the world,” Kate said.
Donations Fuel the Sanctuary’s Mission
The most passionate of The Sanctuary’s supporters are called EleAmbassadors, and they go beyond making donations to the organization. They represent The Sanctuary in presentations, exhibit booths, fundraising events, and many other areas.
“Volunteer EleAmbassadors donate their time, energy, and enthusiasm to raise awareness of the needs of elephants in their communities and beyond,” said Kate.
Another creative way that volunteers can support The Sanctuary is by turning their special occasions into fundraising campaigns. Partners celebrating their wedding anniversary could set up a peer fundraising campaign online with a name, photo, and call to action. Then, they can invite their friends to support a campaign, and all funds go to The Sanctuary.
Kate shared that she saw one person set up a fundraiser like this for a partner, surprising them with a donation to the organization.
The luckiest volunteers, including Jeff and Nicole, are selected to participate in Volunteer Day. The experience invites 12 select volunteers to come to The Sanctuary to take part in projects along with the staff.
“Volunteer work projects may include painting, raking, weeding, pruning, clearing brush, moving or organizing supplies, creating enrichment items, and much more,” Kate said.
Supporters who are already on The Sanctuary’s email list are invited to apply for one of these coveted spots. The nonprofit regularly receives considerably more applications than they have space.
“We hold a lottery to draw names of eligible applicants and match them with one of the available dates,” said Kate.
Some couples are so passionate about Volunteer Day that they’ve surprised each other with an acceptance email notification. And many of the volunteers, especially if they live far away, even make plans to travel together.
Educating the Public About the Importance of Conservation
While couples can’t actually visit the elephants at The Sanctuary, they can learn about the struggles elephants face today. The nonprofit regularly provides educational outreach to the public about problems facing elephants in captivity and in the wild, and why conservation is so important.
“We have formal programs targeting elementary classrooms, homeschools, and other organized educational settings,” Kate said.
People can also visit The Elephant Discovery Center in Hohenwald, Tennessee, to experience exhibits, theater, and programming about elephants and The Sanctuary. The idea is that the more people know about elephants, the better they can advocate for their fair treatment.
And anyone can watch the elephants in their free-range habitat on The Sanctuary’s EleCams, which use solar-powered cameras to track and monitor the elephants.
Through conservation and education, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee wants to create a better future for elephants. While the elephants that live at The Sanctuary once struggled, they are now living their retirement in peace.
“Our mission is to create a world where elephants no longer live under the constant threat of poaching, habitat loss, conflict, or capture,” Kate said.