South Georgia might seem an unlikely place to find elephants. But that’s where an internationally-respected conservationist has built a sanctuary for these largest of land mammals.
Human beings have long had a fascination for – and often relationships with - elephants. The fierce Carthaginian conqueror Hannibal used elephants as machines of war more than two thousand years ago. Around the same time, people in India were using elephants as beasts of burden. In more modern times, elephants were regular attractions in circuses and zoos. For the past forty years, Carol Buckley has developed her own relationships with elephants. Alarmed by the plight of so many elephants in captivity, Buckley founded and continues to head up Elephant Aid International. She became a worldwide recognized authority in the rescue, rehabilitation and welfare of captive-held elephants.
“The elephants that are living in America today, 99 percent of them are wild animals that came from Asia and Africa. It’s not an isolated situation. So these animals are here now, they can’t go back. But they’re still the relatives of those animals that are back in Asia and Africa and there needs to be change worldwide,” she remarked.
In 1995, Buckley realized a long-standing dream by co-founding America’s first and largest natural habitat elephant sanctuary. That facility was the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Over the years, it became a loving refuge for twenty-three elephants and was acclaimed for its integrative, holistic approach to medical care and trauma recovery. Now Buckley has expanded that outreach to Attapulgas, Georgia, just north of the Georgia state line on U.S. 27. Elephant Refuge North America will ultimately be home to as many as 10 female elephants retired from zoos and circuses. It’s located on 850 acres of gentle rolling hills, lush pastures, dense forests, spring-fed lakes, creeks and streams. The moderate climate will allow elephants to remain outdoors almost all year-long. Buckley says thinks it’s the perfect place for elephants to regain what she calls their “elephantness” and develop loving bonds with other elephants and caregivers. At the same time, she believes the Refuge will help more people appreciate their own connection to the natural world as represented by these giant animals that are amazingly like humans in so many ways.
“You know, one of the things that I noticed about humans is that sometimes and generally speaking we separate ourselves out from other animals. But we are an animal; one of many. And if we have an opportunity to get close to a wild animal, observing a captive animal, there’s a sense of a mirror there and we see ourselves,” she observed.
And even though the Attapulgas refuge won’t be open to the public, Buckley hopes it will set an example, change attitudes, increase awareness and be a positive force for change, not only in America but also those parts of the world from which these magnificent animals originate.