Earlier this week, we shared a post about looking for our sanctuary residents in the mornings after they’ve spent their evenings out in the habitats. We received a few questions about our decision to leave the girls out at night, when other sanctuaries may bring their animals inside. For today’s EleFact, we wanted to share more.
At night time, the elephants are left to roam freely in the sanctuary yards. This was a deciding factor when it came to choosing this particular piece of property because, based on our past experiences, when elephants spend increased time indoors (like a barn), negative behaviors tend to arise. Whether they’ve spent all day inside or just come in at night due to colder temperatures, we would see stereotyping behaviors – which we would never see in the habitat – come back. We would also see a few more “short-fuses,” so to speak, between the elephants and caretakers, and even amongst each other. Here at the sanctuary, our temperatures stay acceptable enough that cold is not really an issue that would require bringing them indoors, and the cooler temperatures that we see as the sun goes down actually encourage and promote wandering and socialization between the elephants.
Of course, autonomy is the biggest factor: as we shared in the post this week, allowing the elephants to choose to get lost in the habitat, explore freely without eyes on them at all times, and interact with each other at night is an integral part of their sanctuary experience. The perfect temperatures combined with the investment that we put into safety measures, like appropriate fencing, create the perfect opportunity for us to provide this autonomy to the elephants in a way that other facilities are unable to. We believe that it is part of our responsibility to them to give them this freedom at night. A few were concerned about predators or harmful things that the elephants may encounter in the nighttime hours. The elephants don’t have any predators here, but also there are no additional dangers at night that don’t exist during the day. We could try to protect our elephants from everything, but most people know you can’t protect any being from all dangers without stifling them in a way that isn’t healthy. It’s important to note that during the evening, the caregivers who live on-site are able to listen for vocalizations, check cameras, and make their way to the elephants if there ever seems to be a problem or cause for concern.
Scientifically, it has been found that elephants who spend more time in environments with both indoor and outdoor areas and in larger social groups corresponded with a reduced risk of performing higher rates of stereotypy, most notably at night. It was noted that this was likely due to a few factors: greater diversity and resources, varying climates, “social/environmental refuge,” and allowing the elephants to simply have the choice to pick between their environments, something that is often controlled in many captivity settings.
Although it may seem like a small choice, we believe that one of the greatest options we can give the elephants is the ability to roam at night within the yards. There is a tranquility in the evening that seems grounding and allows for different interactions as well as comfortable sleep in the area of their choice (they do make little nests to sleep in.) The ability to get lost, by themselves or together, is something that is incredibly beneficial to their emotional and mental healing, and we’re happy to be in a place that provides the perfect opportunity to do so.
Photo of Lady