Elephants: A Home in Hohenwald

By Anna Cooper

Elephants have made a home in Hohenwald, Tennessee! For over 24 years, 28 of these remarkable animals have called Hohenwald home. The Elephant Sanctuary is an hour outside of Savannah, Tennessee and is almost in the furthest reaches of our coverage area. Home to 11 elephants, 4 African Savanna elephants and 7 Asian, The Elephant Sanctuary prides themselves in the care they provide for retired elephants. All of the elephants retired here are no longer subjected to the public eye—the whole sanctuary is closed. As Joy Owens, Education Manager, told us, this is so the elephants can “have the freedom to choose how they spend their time whether that be swimming in a pond, wallowing in the mud or exploring the habitat with other elephants.”


Joy Owens, gave us the official story behind how the elephants made Tennessee home. It involves “two elephant trainers traveling with an elephant named Tarra. As they learned more about the needs of elephants, they realized that a life of near constant travel with no elephant companions was not the best life for Tarra or for any elephant. The Elephant Sanctuary was created out of their vision for a place where elephants could retire from public life and live out their days in a vast habitat with other elephants and the freedom to choose how they would spend their time.” Tarra still calls the sanctuary home. One of her old roller skates and the headdress she wore is on display at The Elephant Discovery Center in downtown Hohenwald.

Tennessee is an ideal climate for elephants. It has a “relatively mild climate, diverse habitat offerings and a multitude of vegetation for foraging and enrichment opportunities.” It was in Hohenwald that “they found land that met these needs at a relatively affordable price tag,” and as they say— “the rest is history.”

The Elephant Sanctuary is a fully donor-funded, nonprofit. They do have an advisory board and CEO who oversees the mission and vision of The Sanctuary. Part of The Sanctuary's mission is to “educate the public about the complex needs of captive elephants as well as the crisis facing them in the wild.” They want people to know that “our elephants and all elephants are highly intelligent animals with complex physical and emotional needs that we strive to meet at The Sanctuary. Wild elephants are facing a crisis; African elephants are listed as vulnerable and Asian elephants are listed as endangered. These animals are under the constant threat of poaching, habitat loss and human-elephant conflict. We can all do our part by speaking up for elephants, advocating for their welfare in captivity and for their conservation in the wild.”


The elephants at The Sanctuary get the best care possible, “the day-to-day operation of The Sanctuary takes a full-time staff who contribute to our mission of providing excellence, individualized care to elephants and educating the public on the crisis facing elephants, both captive and wild. We have a full-time team of professional elephant Caregivers who take care of the day-to-day needs of the elephants as well as full-time veterinarian staff who oversee their healthcare. We also have dedicated staff for facilities and maintenance, education, outreach, communications, and donor relations.”

All the elephants currently at The Sanctuary are female, but one bull has called The Sanctuary home. Current Elephants at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee include Asian Elephants: Billie, Debbie, Minnie, Ronnie, Shirley, Sissy, and Tarra, and African Elephants: Flora, Sukari, Tange, and Nosey. A biography for each elephant is on The Sanctuary’s website and at The Discovery Center. All of the elephants have very distinct personalities that including their favorite things to do when traveling their habitat.

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While visiting The Elephant Discovery Center in Hohenwald, we spoke to Todd Montgomery, the Volunteer and Outreach Manager, about what you can expect to find at The Discovery Center, “We aim to have something for different age ranges and learning levels. When schools come here we really try to emphasize the role of elephants in the wild as a keystone species, their natural habitats, and differences in elephant species as well as the needs of elephants in captivity.” There are no elephants at The Discovery Center, but there is a life-sized elephant sculpture made from recycled tires. The Elephant Discovery Center is an amazing interactive experience where you can learn about the magnificent elephants that now call Tennessee home. Although they cannot go into the wild, these elephants are as close to it as possible, while getting all the care they need to continue living their long lives.

To see our full Q&A with The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee visit our blog! More about The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee can be found at https://www.elephants.com/ and The Elephant Discovery Center in downtown Hohenwald is located at 27 East Main Street, Hohenwald, TN 38462. Their hours are Tuesday - Saturday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. A live feed of the Elephants at The Sanctuary can be found on The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee’s website under the Elecam tab.