Elephant Refuge North America coming together in Attapulgus

Published 6:02 pm Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Tucked away in a far corner of Decatur County, down near the Florida line, sits a vast track of over 800 acres that gently dip and roll over the countryside. Scattered in between rolling hills and spontaneous bodies of water, patches of thick woods with overgrown underbrush dot the landscape like spots on a Dalmatian.

“I won’t clear these,” says Carol Buckley as she points to a patch of woods. “They won’t go through there, they have really sensitive skin.”

She’s not talking about cows, or goats, or any other farm animal that is typical for Decatur County.

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Wandering through her sprawling 800-plus acre patch of land will be female Asian Elephants who will be thoroughly enjoying their retirement from whatever captive background they come from.

Elephant Refuge North America, Buckley’s site in Attapulgus, is the second site that Buckley’s organization, Elephant Aid International, has opened. The first site is located in Tennessee.

The site will be the new home for elephants from zoo and circus situations, according to Buckley. Only one elephant from the Tennessee location will be moving to the new site in Georgia.

Tarra, Buckley’s first elephant will be brought down from Tennessee and hopefully be the first resident of Elephant Refuge North America, per Buckley.

“This 850 acre piece of land, this one right here, will be heaven for 7-10 elephants,” said Buckley. “You could have more, but the reason you wouldn’t is that the herd dynamics are affected when you bring in more elephants. Our goal is to create a healthy environment for elephants, and what’s healthy is when they act like a family.”

Buckley knew the property was the perfect fit when she first laid eyes on it. For the property to work for her, she had a checklist that marked off everything elephants would love in their natural habitat, and the Elephant Refuge North America site checks all of those off.

“It is such a joy, I’ll just plunge through the curtain where I can’t see anything beyond,” said Buckley, “I plunge through there and then you just see this creek on this side, what used to be a hunting circle on this side and begin clearing it and it is just heaven.”

The schedule for elephants arriving at the refuge is dependent on three main projects that are ongoing. First, The exterior fence that will provide the elephants with the privacy needs to be completed. Second, the interior fence that will keep the elephants in the refuge, but away from the exterior fence needs to be completed. Then third, the barn where the elephants will sleep needs to be constructed.

So it will be awhile before elephants arrive in Southwest Georgia, but the projects impeding their arrival are necessary to their health, according to Buckley.

“Since sanctuaries are not open to the public, that eliminates probably the most negative aspect of a captive elephants life, which is to be on exhibit,” said Buckley.

“If your goal is to have the animal on exhibit, then every decision that is made is around that focal point of exhibit, so then the elephants’ needs are secondary.”

Buckley hopes that the refuge can serve a dual purpose however. First and foremost are the needs of the elephant, but she also hopes that the sanctuary can be used as a learning experience.

“Vets that work in zoos and learn about elephants, what they are seeing is all the disease,” said Buckley, “I don’t think they really understand why elephants in zoos are so unwell. The focus is yes on the physical, but more you have to focus on the emotional and physiological and if you can see that hand-in-hand with the physical then you’re fine, but you can’t just see the physical.”

Buckley’s goal is to create a program where students and researchers can come and stay on the sanctuary and learn. She also hopes to bring trainers from Asia as well to the property.

In order to speed up the development of the property to get elephants there, Buckley and her organization host volunteer days.

In order to sign up to be a volunteer, visit elephantaidinternational.org and click the support tab. You can also donate money to the organization as well as specific items from their wishlist, which will help their needs as well.