Europe’s only elephant sanctuary in France welcomes first resident

An ageing zoo elephant called Gandhi has become the first inhabitant of a groundbreaking retirement home after nine years of work to get it open

Elephant Haven, near Limoges, Haute-Vienne, is Europe’s first sanctuary for former zoo and circus elephants and currently has space for three females.

Obtaining permits and constructing infrastructure and fences was only half the battle to get it ready – building relationships with other welfare organisations was key before welcoming the first resident in October.

Gandhi was born in the wild in 1969, probably in Thailand, transferred to Givskud Zoo in Denmark in 1973, and arrived at Les Terres de Nataé Zoo in Brittany in 1998. She is now 52 years old, weighs 3.6 tonnes and has never had a calf. The precise details of her story are lost, but what is known is that she has arthritis, and behavioural difficulties relating to other elephants.

“In time, we hope to introduce her to other females,” says Tony Verhulst, who co-founded EHEES (Elephant Haven European Elephant Sanctuary) with Sofie Goetghebeur.