This topic began as a Facebook post, but led into a deeper discussion, one that we felt needed to be addressed further.
To see how the Facebook discussion began, please click here.
This is a topic that has the potential of becoming a very dynamic discussion; it is one that will often fuel intense debates as people dig their heels in to defend their position. The argument is not simply death by poacher versus living in a zoo. That said, there are those who have witnessed the devastating effects of severe drought and the agonizing loss of family members to poachers or vengeance killings firsthand, who would still say that an early death in the wild is better than the misery of many captive situations. It is not possible to offer elephants in captivity even half of what they would have if left in the wild, hardships and tragedies included; there simply is no comparison to a true family life and ultimate freedom. In captivity we tend to say we’re doing all we can and their lives are good enough, but that is not where we should stagnate; we should always be looking for more.
In the case of sanctuaries, I have personally witnessed multiple zookeepers come to visit an elephant that they used to care for and then state that they had never seen their elephant so bright and “alive.” When we nurture the inherent needs of elephants, not just food, water, shelter and pedicures, but offer autonomy, diversity with social relationships and the simple ability to wander and explore, elephants will shift; they do become “softer,” less guarded, and start to display an increased awareness of the world around them and within themselves. If we had the ability to release them back into the family groups they were stolen from, their growth would undoubtedly be exponentially greater than that of sanctuary. But we have to work within the limitations we have. We know that releasing elephants back into the wild is highly unlikely but offering them a life in an expansive sanctuary is tangible; it is a very realistic option.
One of the many things that we will strive to do is to definitively document the transitions that happen when elephants are offered a life that is infinitely more dynamic than where they came from. We want to offer the opportunity for others to gain the perspective that we have experienced, if we are able to do so; I feel that many others will be searching for ways to help their elephants find sanctuary. For now, I ask that you trust that our intentions are good and are based on what we have learned firsthand. For many, sanctuary can be the difference between being alive and truly living.