White Oak Conservation Elephant Habitat 

A herd of Asian Elephants rescued from the drudgery of a life performing for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey’s circus will soon have the freedom to roam inside a 2,500-acre habitat that’s currently under construction at the White Oak Conservation in northeastern Florida

Crews at the White Oak Conservation wildlife refuge have begun building the 2,500-acre habitat which plans to hold up to 34 Asian elephants, many of which previously traveled throughout the United States as part of the Ringling Bros. circus.

But in 2016, under heavy pressure from animal activist groups, and their animal-loving patrons the circus was forced to retire these gentle giants from performing.

White Oak’s owner Kimbra Walter who, along with her husband Mark, who had purchased the 17,000-acre property in 2013 said:

“For too long, humans have decimated the native habitats, poached and removed these animals from their natural home.

Elephants are majestic and intelligent animals, and they are in dire need,”

Dr. Michelle Gadd, an ecologist and chief of conservation for White Oak, and part of the team overseeing the design and construction of Elephant’s new habitat said:

“The goal is to give the elephants all the space and resources they need to enjoy their retirement.

As you can imagine, it’s a challenge to feed and house 34 Asian elephants.

So it’s taken us a bit of time to get the appropriate design and make sure that we have everything in order to welcome them there. But we have now broken ground on their area.”

White Oak Conservation Elephant Habitat

Gadd also gave a little insight into what the elephants’ new habitat at White Oak will include:
  • Access to nine interconnected areas of the property with a range of habitats, from wetlands to meadows.
  • 11 new water holes large enough for the elephants to frolic in,
  • 3 newly built barns outfitted with the latest state-of-the-art veterinary equipment.
Gadd stated that the new barns were specially designed so that these animals, some of which are on the elderly side can receive any vital veterinary needs immediately, without having to subject the Elephants to the stress of having to move them to unfamiliar surroundings.

The elephants, 19 of which were born in the U.S., will move into their new home once it’s completed, with the first group expected to arrive at White Oak in 2021.

“Our family is committed to improving the lives of individual elephants and ensuring the survival of elephants in the wild,” Mark Walter said.

As part of the project, the wildlife refuge has brought in a team of experts to look after the elephants. Led by Nick Newby, who has nearly two decades’ experience managing elephants.

While the new habitat will provide plenty of space for the elephants to roam and forage, the goal is to keep elephants’ familial and social bonds intact. Meaning, unlike when families have been torn apart in the circus. Now, whenever possible, mothers, calves, and/or siblings can grow old together in the same areas.

The move has the backing of Feld Entertainment, the parent company of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey.

Chairman and CEO Kenneth Feld called White Oak one of the most well-respected conservation groups in the world and voiced his support for the effort.

“We are proud of our partnership with White Oak to transfer the elephants in our care to their facility to further expand their endangered species conservation efforts,”

Endangered Asian Elephants

The Asian elephant is classified as Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Over the past 75 years, the Asian Elephant population has been decimated, with many experts saying as much as 50 percent of their numbers have been killed due to illegal wildlife poaching, coupled with the loss of habitat.
It is estimated that there are only between 30,000 to 40,000 Asian elephants left in the wild. Worse, these gentle giants now only cover a small fraction of their historic ranges they once freely roamed.