The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee 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.


Elephants are intelligent creatures with complex physical and social needs.

Elephants in Sanctuary deserve nothing less than individualized, whole-elephant care for life.

“Sanctuary” means providing a safe have and natural habitat, dedicated solely to elephant wellbeing.

People can and must make a difference in protecting wild elephants so that the species can survive for generations to come.

Protected contact and positive reinforcement are cornerstones for working humanely and effectively with captive elephants.

Collaboration and sharing of best practices leads to better management, treatment and care for elephants everywhere.

Staff thrive on teamwork, continuous learning, and shared commitment to the wellbeing of the elephants entrusted to The Sanctuary’s care.

Honesty, integrity, and open communication with partners and key stakeholders are foundational to The Sanctuary’s relationship and business practices.


Since 1995, The Sanctuary has provided refuge for 27 elephants who are retired from zoos and circuses. There are currently 11 elephant residents with room for more. The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee began on 200 acres and has grown to three separate and protected, natural habitats, spanning over more than 2,700 acres.

The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee provides elephants retired from entertainment and exhibition with herd, home, and individualized veterinary and husbandry care for life. Elephants that have lived their lives in captivity have an opportunity at The Sanctuary to live in an expansive habitat that allows for a range of natural behaviors. Many of the elephants suffer long-term health and behavioral issues common to elephants that have spent their lives performing, such as tuberculosis, osteomyelitis, obesity, arthritis, aggression and captivity-associated stress. Because elephants have complex physical and social needs, successful outcomes are measured not only by the elephant’s physical health, but also their social, behavioral and psychological well-being.

As a true sanctuary, The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee is closed to the public. The best way to see the elephants is by watching Elecams, live streams of the habitat that can be viewed on this site.

Education is a very important part of The Sanctuary’s mission. Through Distance Learning, The Sanctuary has taught thousands of school children across the country a respect for wildlife while learning about the crisis facing Asian and African elephants in captivity and in the wild.

In the wild, elephants are migratory, walking miles each day. They form intricate family structures and grieve for their dead in a more-than-instinctive way. They show humor and express compassion. The reality of their lives in captivity is that many are in chains for 18 hours a day and controlled by fear and intimidation. The Elephant Sanctuary’s mission is to give elephants the freedom they deserve.

The Sanctuary is a 501(c)(3) non-profit and is accredited by The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, and is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

Photo of African Elephant Ears Flared
Photo Of Asian Elephant Among Trees At The Elephant Sanctuary In Tennessee
Photo Of Asian Elephant By Lake At The Elephant Sanctuary In Tennessee
Photo Of African Elephant Trunk Stretch At The Elephant Sanctuary In Tennessee
Photo Of Asian Elephant Shirley Stands Among Trees At The Elephant Sanctuary In Tennessee
International Outreach

The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee works to increase understanding of and support for conservation efforts to protect elephants in the wild, and promote practices to improve the wellbeing of captive elephants around the globe. The Sanctuary collaborates with and supports international organizations on four continents: Africa, Europe, Asia, and South America. Their programs focus on elephant-human conflict, anti-poaching, habitat preservation, field work to add to knowledge of elephants, rescue and rehabilitation, improved management and care in captivity, and providing veterinary care.

2016 - 2017 Collaborations

Amboseli Trust for Elephants—Kenya

Elephant Haven—Europe/France
There are 141 elephants in circuses and 540 elephants living in zoos in Europe. Many countries in Europe are beginning to ban wild animals from circuses.

Elephant Voices—South Africa

Elephants Without Borders—Botswana

Global Sanctuary for Elephants—Brazil
Elephants have been banned from performing in 5 South American countries; many are in dire need of shelter and care.

TB Research Group Stellenbosch University, Student Scholarships—South Africa
Michelle Miller, DVM, NRF, Research Chair

Thailand Elephant Care Center, Veterinary Student Program—Thailand

Utopia Scientific, Caitlin O’Connell—Mushara

Wildlife SOS India, Captive Elephants Welfare Project—India

2014 - 2015 Collaborations

Elephant Voices—Nairobi Kenya
Amboseli Trust for Elephants works to stop the ivory trade and end the poaching of elephants.

Global Sanctuary for Elephants—Mato Grosso Brazil
The Global Sanctuary for Elephants is a 501(c)(3) working to provide long-term care of captive elephants in South America. Elephants have been banned from performing in 5 South American countries; many are in dire need of shelter and care.

Africa, Bendje, Gabon
In August 2015 The Elephant Sanctuary collaborated with graduate students from Duke University’s Humans & Autonomy Laboratory in support of their work to provide a low cost, easy-to-use drone to aid researchers and protectors of forested elephants in the Wonga Wongue National Park in Bendje, Gabon.

Thailand Elephant Conservation Center—Thailand
Thailand Elephant Conservation Center provides care for elephants retired from logging in Thailand.

Dr. Caitlin O'Connell/Etosha National Park—Namibia
In June 2015 The Elephant Sanctuary hosted Dr. Caitlin O’Connell for public gatherings in Nashville and in Hohenwald to hear about her research work in Africa. Her public talks focused on the social structure of African male elephants – their friendships, power struggles, and play.

Xian China
In June 2015 The Elephant Sanctuary partnered with the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and Animals Asia Foundation (AAF) to provide consultation on improving elephant well-being in Chinese zoos. These zoos included Xian Zoo, Beijing Zoo, and the Badaling Safari Park. At the invitation of AAF, Sanctuary Director of Elephant Programs, Margaret Whittaker, traveled with Brian Busta, PAWS Sanctuary Manager, to speak to more than 70 curators and senior animal managers in a workshop organized by the Chinese Zoo Association (CAZG). They introduced workshops on Protected Contact and tools and methods for elephant foot care with The Elephant Sanctuary’s support. There were approximately 150 attendees.

Elephant Voices—Nairobi Kenya

Thailand Elephant Conservation Center
In August 2014 The Elephant Sanctuary hosted Dr. Khayjohnpat Boonprasert from Thailand Elephant Conservation Center for two weeks in Hohenwald, TN to collaborate on issues of elephant health, welfare, and veterinary care.  

India Mumbai
The Elephant Sanctuary provided foot care tools in July 2014 for Sunder, a 14-year-old temple elephant moved to a rehabilitation center after years of chaining and abuse. Margaret Whittaker, Active Environments and Director of Elephant Care at The Elephant Sanctuary was invited to India to introduce Sunder’s care staff to Protected Contact and foot care training. The Sanctuary provided tools for the workshop and on-going foot care.

Global Sanctuary for Elephants—Chile Rancagua
The Elephant Sanctuary partnered with Global Sanctuary for Elephants to provide experienced staff, care and treatments to Ramba. This effort also supports Global Sanctuary for Elephants’ work in South America to locate land and resources for Ramba’s long term care.

Current Residents

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