New elephant sanctuary coming to South Georgia town

Published: Aug. 2, 2018 at 9:07 PM EDT
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By: Tiffany Lewis | WCTV Eyewitness News

August 2, 2018

ATTAPULGUS, Ga. (WCTV) -- One stoplight. Two stop signs. Attapulgus, Georgia is about as small town as it gets. But, in just a few short months, the town will be getting some exotic new residents.

"Everybody is a cheerleader for it. They're excited about it. They think it'll work," said Carol Buckley, the owner of the new elephant sanctuary.

Buckley is set to open the nation's third such establishment, and the elephants are more than ready to call South Georgia home.

"The elephants that come here will retire, and be allowed to just be elephants," she said.

Buckley has loved elephants since the age of 19, when she got one of her own; Tara.

"She just has brought me along on this entire journey. I don't know what I would be doing if I hadn't met her," she said on the impact Tara had on her life.

Since then, she has made it her mission to save and rehabilitate former circus, zoo and performance elephants.

Buckley opened the nation's first elephant sanctuary in 1999, and now the new one in Attapulgus, where the animals will have plenty of room to roam and play. 850 acres, to be exact.

When the elephants get back to what feels like their natural habitat, something special happens.

"It absolutely does allow more of their natural personalities to come through," said Otto Fad, an animal welfare and behavior specialist. "Through the gift of these large paddocks and time, they're able to reach out and slowly approach and make friendships with other elephants on their terms."

Something that hasn't always been available to the retired elephants, as Buckley explained.

"Twenty years ago, no one was talking about elephant sanctuaries. Once a week now I get an email or a call from somebody that says, I want to start an elephant sanctuary, tell me how to do it!"

Although the facility is a sanctuary, meaning it wont be open to the public, that isn't to say its presence wont be felt.

"You're more likely to hear African elephants bellowing about some perceived slight, or something like that," Fad said. "Asian elephants are usually more subtle, but that's not to say that every once in awhile they won't let out a pretty good trumpet."

Buckley says they will open the facility once the barn is complete, which is expected to take a few more months.

Their first resident will be Mundi, an elephant coming from a zoo in Puerto Rico.