The use of wild animals, like elephants, in circus performances is banned in many parts of the US, but the question of what to do with these animals once they are no longer in use still remains.
The White Oak Conservation Center in Yulee, Florida is a 135-acre sanctuary intended to give previously privately-owned elephants a peaceful place to live out their days in an environment that replicates their natural habitat.
The second batch of elephants arrived at the sanctuary last week, following the first group which arrived in April. The 32 animals were all purchased from circuses by philanthropists Mark and Kimbra Walter. Now, these elephants roam freely on the property, often spending days on end in the wild areas of the space before coming back to the barn for human interaction.
The youngest elephant in the sanctuary is eight while the oldest is 75. The average lifespan for an elephant in captivity is 48 years, but their wild counterparts live much longer.
Eventually, the Walters plans to expand their property to 2,500 acres, with enough water holes, forests, and grassland to support an entire elephant herd.
There is no plan as of yet to open the sanctuary to the public, but the employees and volunteers who helped design and create the sanctuary are excited that these animals will finally get to live in a healthy environment.
Nick Newby, who leads the animal caretaking team, told the Washington Post, “The gentle giants at the sanctuary are ambassadors for elephants in the wild. It’s our duty to make sure that their future is better than their past, and that their tomorrows are better than their yesterdays.”