Yulee, FL

Yulee Animal Sanctuary Opens Doors to Former Circus Elephants

Synthia Stark

Photo by Richard Jacobs on Unsplash

In Yulee, Florida is a 135-acre sanctuary called the White Oak Conservation Center. It provides a peaceful home for previously privately-owned elephants, where the environment closely replicates their natural habitat.

For example, taming wild animals like elephants for circus-related performances have been banned in many parts of the USA for many years. Yet, for the previously trained elephants that did live the former circus life, it’s hard to tell where they often end up.

Just last week, the second batch of elephants arrived at the sanctuary. It was followed by an initial first group from April. All 32 animals were purchased from circuses.

Photo by Andreas Weilguny on Unsplash

The people who purchased these elephants are two philanthropists named Mark and Kimbra Walter. The two reportedly stated: 

“We are thrilled to give these elephants a place to wander and explore. We are working to protect wild animals in their native habitats. But for these elephants that can’t be released, we are pleased to give them a place where they can live comfortably for the rest of their lives.”

Some of you may be aware that Mark is the co-founder of Guggenheim Partners, which is a famous financial services firm. Mark is also the chairman of the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Others may be aware that Kimbra is a prominent attorney, with an equal passion for education and conservation. She serves on the board of trustees of the Lincoln Park Zoo, OneGoal, and the Goodman Theatre. 

Photo by Seth Abramczyk on Unsplash

Just to get the elephants to White Oak, they had to transport the elephants in pairs by moving them 200 miles through customized trucks. Throughout the journey, they were accompanied by animal care specialists and veterinarians.

When the elephants arrived, they were released into two large paddocks to get used to the environment, and near the paddocks is a climate-controlled and specially designed barn where they were constantly monitored for their well-being and health.

Since then, the elephants have ventured out of the paddocks into the pine forests that have wetlands, open grasslands, and pine forests.

Photo by Paola Blašković on Unsplash

These days, the rehabilitated elephants roam freely at the sanctuary and they often spend many days in the wildest parts of the land before retreating back into the main barn for their coveted interaction with kind people.

The youngest elephant is 8-years-old, while the oldest ones are 75-years-old. The average lifespan for elephants in captivity is usually 48 years, while the wild elephants live on for much longer.

The Walter family has ambitious plans to expand the property. They want the property to be expanded to 2500 acres and it will include forests, grassland, and plenty of water holes.

The plan is ambitious, but it is within reach.

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Currently, there are no plans to open the sanctuary to the general public anytime soon. However, private tours by reservation are a possibility — but be mindful of current world events.

Their website even says so: 

“White Oak Conservation continues to conduct limited scheduled tours due to the pandemic, but visitors cannot currently visit the elephants while they acclimate and construction of additional habitats continues.”

What’s great is that there are many employees and volunteers who helped create and design the place. So far, everyone is excited that the sanctuary has carefully recreated elements of that healthy wildlife environment. The elephants deserve that much at least. 

The leader of the animal caretaking team is Nick Newby. Nick had reportedly said: 

“The gentle giants at the sanctuary are ambassadors for elephants in the wild. It’s our duty to make sure that their future is better than their past, and that their tomorrows are better than their yesterdays.”

It’s fascinating that Yulee, Florida houses such a fancy and beautiful sanctuary. 

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Writer & Researcher | Therapist-in-Training | Crisis Responder | Writing wholesome stories for the masses.

New York City, NY

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