Searching for Wildlife Sanctuaries in Oregon: A visit to Wildlife Safari, Howling Acres Wolf Sanctuary, and Wildlife Images: Comparing these Oregon animal habitats, how much better are they than zoos? Is there a "true sanctuary" out there?

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March 7th 2008
Published: March 8th 2008
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Journal Entry: March 7, 2008 (Planned visit to Wildlife Safari and Howling Acres planned on March 8th, and a visit to Wildlife Images planned on March 9th).

As a continuation to learn and explore alternative animal habitats offered around the world, I planned to look around my home state by visiting three "sanctuaries" in Oregon, in hopes of finding what I would consider to be a "true sanctuary". Please refer to my blog entry on the Oregon Zoo in January 2008, and my journey to India and Thailand to better understand what I mean by a "true sanctuary". What a true sanctuary means to me is that there is freedom for the animals to be the animals they instinctively are, without being excessively micromanaged and controlled by us humans. They should have adequate space to roam, be treated well, appear healthy and content, get enough exercise, and be stimulated by the natural environment and their relationships with their fellow species. So as I get ready to leave on this short journey to Southern Oregon, it is my hope that I find something positive that I can share, as well as gain a greater perspective of the types of animal habitats that are out there, and how we may be able to improve them.

March 8, 2008: A visit to WILDLIFE SAFARI - What to say about the time at Wildlife Safari. It was an experience that was both heart-warming and emotionally challenging with regards to the animals that live there, the hope that is alive to expand the elephant habitat, and the current limitations that are innate for managing animals that are intelligent beings. It is wonderful how the land that Wildlife Safari has can provide for grazing and a sense of autonomy for those animals of different species that can co-exist in a savana-like habitat. A question that I couldn't help but to ask myself, however, was why is it that the most intelligent animals such as Elephants, Monkeys, Bears, and the Big Cats (Lions, Cheetahs, and Tigers) have such small habitats, in comparison to the majority of the range or savana animals? I spent the greatest time considering the habitat and care of the elephants that are there, which consists of three African elephants (Alice, Tiki, and George).

As my heart was feeling heavy, with the awareness that there appears to be a significant amount of land available to expand the elephant habitat, but why haven't they done it, I and my travel companions were invited to speak with the elephant caregivers. Many philosophical issues were kindly discussed and debated regarding the care of the elephants, why elephant rides were still being provided despite them also developing and offering alternative interactions with elephants, and what options there were to expand the elephant habitat. I learned that there is a plan and, in particular, 100 acres of land available with natural springs for the future development of ponds for the elephants. The elephants would not live on this land, however sections of it would be used as a "playground" for them, many times allowing the elephants to be there 8 hours a day. The elephants would continue to offer and be engaged in the many activities they are doing, however would have the enjoyment of this extra freedom in a habitat that would provide closer to a "sanctuary" experience. So what are they waiting for? MONEY. They need to raise enough funds (the estimate is for $500,000) for the supplies and labor for the type of steel fencing required. Donations can be made to Wildlife Safari for this specific cause: Just looking into Alice the Elephant's eyes will tell you... this cause is a good one, as the current space available for the elephants is too small.

Wildlife Safari is certainly better than a typical zoo, but because of a variety of reasons is not a "true sanctuary"- nor will it likely be in the future. However, the addition of more space would certainly be moving in the right direction and could only improve the life of the elephants that are living there. I will hope that the pros and cons of elephant riding and the use of the ankush (or elephant bull-hook) needed to control "or cue" the elephant, when getting them to "perform" or comply with commands, be deeply considered. Visitors do not need the charm and thrill of an elephant ride, nor to be entertained by elephants being commanded to do a bunch of tricks (such as standing on two legs). The elephants themselves are the draw, and people will still come just for them. Regarding elephant-riding, please refer to my earlier entries in this blog which gives several internet sites that provide information about why elephant riding is of concern, mainly that the backs of the elephants are not strong (in contrast to their trunk strength, and pulling or pushing power), and the rubbing or friction of the elephant carriage can cause the elephant discomfort and "bed sores." In my experience, it is just as thrilling (if not more) to see elephants enjoying themselves in a mud hole, in their interactions with one-another, walking beside them, feeling their trunks, and looking into their amazing eyes. You are removed from the experience of relating to the elephant when you are on their backs being hauled around in a carriage, in fact the elephant likely does not know who you even are (as opposed to a face to face encounter). And, as a tourist, please remember you have a choice in what you support and indicate you like. There are many other programs that Wildlife Safari offers, so visitors can get a hands-on experience with the elephants. Please check out their website for more information.

So the search for a "true sanctuary" continues, but I consider my time at Wildlife Safari a meaningful one, and a cause worth supporting. The staff were all great, available, approachable, and obviously care about the animals they are caring for. However, it is through education that we all improve and become better aware of what we are doing, and I will hope that Wildlife Safari will continue their momentum to improve. In viewing their Mission Statement, I do have some concerns and questions about what their plan will look like in regards to the conservation and "reproduction" of the elephants.

Please note their Mission Statement: "The creation of the CORES (Conservation of Rare and Endangered Species) program embodies the park's mission of conserving and protecting the world's diversity for future generations; CORES brings the park full circle, cementing its commitment to rare and endangered species. There are currently two CORES projects, the Cheetah Reproduction Project and the African Elephant Conservation & Reproduction Center. The success of Wildlife Safari’s Cheetah Reproduction Project has been overwhelming; the park is proud to be one of the top breeders of cheetah in the U.S. and the western hemisphere."

What are they planning, and how does the addition of more space for the elephants fit into this? I fully believe in the value of family groups, and the bonding that takes place between them. However, this does not need to be a biological connection, as I was able to witness up and close while in Thailand (please refer to the entry on the Elephant Nature Park for more information). Here are just a few more points to consider, and I hope Wildlife Safari will:

My hope is that they will get the help (funding) they need to expand in ways that can most benefit the animals already living there, and if additions to the number of elephants are to be made, please have it be for a few (or so) more African elephants out there that are so badly in need of an alternative living space than to the zoo or circus they are currently living in. I say African Elephants because Asian and African Elephants generally need to be separated, thus this would mean less space in the end for the elephants already there (as noted: they currently have 3 African Elephants). And yes, baby elephants are a joy to watch and interact with, however there are many adult and young elephants living in the U.S., that are in need of help right now. There is also a high percentage of baby elephants that do not survive or live long in captivity for a variety of reasons. Possibly, there could be a compromise in helping some elephants in need of an improved and loving home, and providing them the opportunity to be a mother if they so choose. As a side-note: I learned that elephants like to be courted just like humans (artificial insemination does not provide for this, nor do we really know if the elephants are choosing to be mothers, thus able to be a loving mother when the baby elephant arrives).

Another thought is for the orphaned elephants that are currently out there, or soon will be as the result of the resumed culling that is to take place in Africa. For those unaware of what "culling" means, it basically means selective killing of elephants to control their numbers, with the justification being that it gives more space for the remaining elephants and lessens human-elephant conflict. Well, it is truly an awful thing, no matter how you view it, as this results in a mass slaughter that destroys family groups and leaves numerous orphaned elephants. Fortunately, there are organizations like "Friends of Elephants" that are doing their best to help these orphans. Please refer to their website:, as it has great information on a variety of issues related to elephants and what can be done to help them in African, as well as in our home countries. So here is another idea for adding to the herd at Wildlife Safari... how about helping some orphaned African Elephants that need a home. This really isn't such a big stretch in the realm of possibilities, as their elephants Alice and Tiki were adopted by Wildlife Safari as orphans.

So those are some thoughts on Wildlife Safari. Again, it is to be mindful about what we are doing, and what we are truly supporting. There is a sign with a poem by Baba Biaum (a Senegalese Poet) at Wildlife Safari that says, "In the end, we conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, we will understand only what we are taught." So saying all that: Let there be great things that happen at Wildlife Safari, that will most benefit the individual elephants that are living there, and hopefully other elephants out there that need a better life, and may we never forget the feelings of the elephants that live in the wild and in captivity.

March 9, 2008: Visited Wildlife Images and the Howling Acres Wolf Sanctuary... both were great in their own ways, and are meaningful causes to donate to. Both have websites that have heart-tugging information and stories about the individual animals that live there. The pictures will speak for themselves, regarding the beautiful animals that are there.

Re: WILDLIFE IMAGES: I was most impressed by the following things: The space given for each individual bear at Wildlife Images, and the cat habitats. I also like that they have a 80% success rate, regarding releasing animals back into the wild. The fact that this beautiful facility was created through the love and donations of volunteers (and local businesses) is impressive. It is a great place to visit, and I was surprised how nice it was when I was there. They are also doing extremely meaningful work! Go there, and see for yourself! You'll no doubt be impressed.

Re: The HOWLING ACRES WOLF SANCTUARY. This is a place of deep devotion to the wolfs and hybrids that have been rescued and live there. Each wolf has their own story (most related to abuse, illegal breeding, and people's ignorance). It is easy to forget when one looks around and sees the 16 wolfs that these are wild animals. As much as they look like dogs, they are not, and give a clue of why so many try to make a pet out of them, which in the end most often does not work out. The guided tours help the visitor to understand what is going on with the wolf population, and those animals that were so fortunate to make to this sanctuary. Unfortunately, they have had hostile neighbors including an incident of two of the wolves getting poisoned (one died and the other has lasting health problems). It is hard to believe that someone would do that, especially understanding that the wolves themselves do not make much noise, except at 9:50 p.m., they reportedly give a group howl that last about 10 minutes. We got to hear a short howl for about 30 seconds, while we were there, which sounded pretty cool to me! Currently Howling Acres is working to raise money for a very important move. They currently have 13 acres, and have 120 acres of land pledged to them in Ashland which would enable them to have 1 acre a piece for each wolf. I am sure they will get more wolfs if this happens, and will be doing a great service to the wolves and all the wolf-lovers out there. I will hope they raise the funds, and help move these mesmerizing creatures to a safer and more neighbor-friendly place that can hear the sound of howling wolves like a sacred melody of nature. Help if you can, and make a visit sometime!

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Little SitatungaLittle Sitatunga
Little Sitatunga

This little guy bonded to humans when it was little, so seeks out humans (follows cars, etc.) rather than his own kind. He's a little mixed up, but oh so cute.
Saddled up... but no elephat rides today...Saddled up... but no elephat rides today...
Saddled up... but no elephat rides today...

During busy times of year, the elephants give rides for 2 hrs a day, which is said to promote their well-being by giving them time with their trainers and getting enough exercise. I am still opposed to elephant riding, and feel there are other meaningful activities we can have with elephants.

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