Earlier this month I went to visit Elephant Haven European Elephant Sanctuary (EHEES) a project OAT are very proud to be supporting.
It is situated near the town of Limoges in France. The sanctuary was founded in 2016 by Sofie Goetghebeur & Tony Verhulst, who collectively, have over 30 years experience working with captive wild animals, particularly elephants. The concept was driven by their passion to provide retired circus elephants and indeed any elephants in need of sanctuary, with a purpose built facility that is suited to their needs. The emphasis is on the needs of the animals and not the public.
There are almost 700 elephants currently living in circuses, zoos and other captive environments in mainland Europe. Due to increased public awareness of captive animal welfare issues, a number of countries have already imposed a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses and it seems many more will follow suit. Also, many zoos who are not meeting the required welfare standards are also under scrutiny, and laws are clamping down on the illegal import and trade in wildlife. All of this is positive news for wildlife going forward, but the knock on effect will mean that many animals are, and will continue to be, in need of appropriate rehoming. Many other animals, big cats for example, are able to be relocated to large sanctuaries in their native countries, but with elephants, this is simply not possible.
Recognising the impending need to provide a facility that is purpose built for retired and rescued elephants, Sofie and Tony looked for an ideal situation with adequate space to create very large elephant paddocks, build large elephant barns and ideally in a warm climate. I am pleased to say they have succeeded, and Elephant Haven European Elephant Sanctuary is due to open its doors, and be ready to receive their first elephants in September 2019.
Imagine waking up one morning and deciding to build Europe’s first elephant sanctuary, quit your job, move country and embark upon your mission. Most people, including their families, thought Sofie & Tony had lost their minds. But together they stayed focussed, and they are now only a few months away from turning their dream into a reality.
Sofie & Tony have already managed to secure generous grants and donations from a number of animal welfare organisations including OAT, World Animal Protection, and Bridget Bardot, and a number of individual supporters have, and continue to support them. Corporate sponsors have provided much of the equipment and tools required for the construction work and fencing, and I was also very encouraged to learn that a large number of volunteers continue to give their time, expertise and labour to help this amazing project.
The development of the project hasn’t been without its challenges and I am sure there will be many obstacles to overcome in the future. However, considering the passion and dedication of Sofie and Tony, I have no doubt they will succeed, and will soon be providing many elephants in Europe with the compassionate care, respect and dignity they deserve. OAT are certainly in it for the long run and will be behind them all the way!
A few extra pics from my trip.