Elephant haven plan needs help

Nearly 600 elephants in Europe need to be rehomed - Photo: Steve Garvie

Couple raising funds to buy land in Limousin to create ‘retirement home’ for animals from Europe’s zoos and circuses

by JANE HANKS
A COUPLE are bidding to create a retirement home for elephants in the Limousin after discovering there is nowhere for the nearly 600 elephants in Europe’s circuses and zoos to go when they retire.

Tony Verhulst and Sofie Goetghebeur from Belgium are appealing for donations to help buy land at Oradour-Sur-Vayres in Haute-Vienne but need €440,000 to complete the purchase – and 10 times that to guarantee the Elephant Haven’s future.

They are already living on the land and have raised just over €110,000 and hope to raise the remaining €330,000 by the end of this month.

The couple both worked at Antwerp Zoo where Mr Verhulst was responsible for the elephants.

He realised there was nowhere for sick or old elephants and felt it was urgent to provide a home for them as Belgium has banned them from circuses and the UK, Netherlands and other countries are discussing similar moves.

Sofie Goetghebeur says that with 141 elephants in circuses and 540 elephants in zoos in Europe "Belgium has nowhere big enough.”

She said Limousin has a huge amount of space. “The farm we want to buy is ideal. There are 25 hectares and a plentiful water supply including a lake. There are two separate parcels full of edible trees. Here we could house 10 elephants and give them two hectares each.”

Ms Goetghebeur says they have backing from the regional council and the local mairie: “The mayor has even said he would give us branches and leaves to help feed the elephants when the local trees are pruned. It is the perfect place.”

The original deadline to buy the property was March 31 but this has been extended due to the goodwill of the current land owners.

Tony and Sofie are still hopeful they will reach their goal by the end of the month, but a crowdfunding campaign which continues until March 10 has so far raised only 3% of the target price.

An elephant drinks an average of 100 to 150 litres of water a day and eats about 100 kilos of food per day and the average cost is around €100,000 a year.

Elephant Haven would need a further €4.5 million to include the costs for the first enclosure, the stables, the medical facilities and the information centre. It is wholly dependent on private donations and company sponsorship.

Mr Verhulst says that sum would be spread over many years, with an elephant-proof fence, barn and quarantine barn costing €1.5-€2m. Other sanctuaries have told him the first phase is always the hardest but he is still optimistic.

Learn more about Elephant Haven on its website here

Elephant photo: Steve Garvie

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