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France is to open the first elephant sanctuary in Europe
Posted on 16/01/2020

SocietyFrance

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First imagined by two Belgian zookeepers, Sofie Goethghebeur and Tony Verhulst, the first animal sanctuary in Europe is now being built in Bussière-Galant in the French region of Limousin. The sanctuary offers a home for life for former circus and zoo elephants from around Europe and will welcome its first residents in the next couple of months.

An elephant paradise

An elephant paradise
© langstrup/123RF

In the French region of Limousin, Europe's first elephant sanctuary is taking shape on the grounds of an old equestrian farm covering over 28 hectares. Named "Elephant Haven", this vast playground for elephants is offering the animals a home for life after years spent in captivity at circuses or European zoos.

At the heart of the project are two former zookeepers from ZOO Antwerpen in Belgium, Sofie Goetghebeur and Tony Verhulst. Their idea to open Europe's first elephant sanctuary was born from their passion for the animals, but they also recognised a growing need. According to their estimates listed on the new Elephant Haven website, more than 100 elephants are currently working in circuses in Europe. Their mission is to create a safe haven for these beasts as relocation back to their original habitats is not always possible.

The decision to build in Limousin was also a deliberate move. Situated in the newly-created Parc Naturel Régional Périgord-Limousin, the sanctuary region offers abundant vegetation for the animals and ideal weather for the former circus and European zoo elephants that have already become accustomed to Europe's climate.

More and more European countries are banning elephants in circuses

More and more European countries are banning elephants in circuses
© langstrup/123RF

Several European countries have already decided to ban the use of wild animals in circuses. Most recently, the British government banned at the beginning of the year the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in England after more than 20 years of animal protection organisations campaigning.

"This ban in England is wonderful news, and long overdue," said Reineke Hameleers, director of Eurogroup for Animals, regarding the new law. "What we'd like to see is an overarching EU ban on the use of wild animals in circuses and, importantly, national bans on the use of cetaceans in entertainment, as only four Member States have adopted a ban on dolphinaria."

Due to a circus's temporary nature and the constant travelling involved, elephants and animals working in such an environment cannot be provided with adequate enough facilities to keep them physically and psychologically healthy. What's more, physical abuse has often been found to be happening behind the scenes at many circuses.

Working towards educating visitors

Working towards educating visitors
© langstrup/123RF

Although construction is scheduled to be completed this year, the founders of Elephant Haven have not yet announced when their first boarders will arrive. "We're working behind the scenes to make contacts. But it's complex and it takes time," they said. The first phase of the project involves integrating around two to three elephants in the first four-hectare enclosure.

Eventually, the sanctuary could have three pens housing up to ten elephants. Plans also include the opening of on-site facilities that will accommodate the public including an observation platform and an education centre. "The peace and quiet of the retired elephants will remain the priority," the two zookeepers make care to stress