HOHENWALD, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee received a new resident just before the beginning of the month.
Aardvark, or Artie for short, a 40-year-old African male elephant, arrived at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, located in Hohenwald, from the North Carolina Zoo after many months of planning, the sanctuary said in an announcement.
Born in the wild of Zimbabwe, Artie was brought to the U.S. in 1986 with a group of young elephants that were orphaned due to culling carried out by the Zimbabwe government. He arrived at the North Carolina Zoo in 2007 when he was just 15 years old.
According to The Sanctuary, zoo officials described Artie as “the most talkative of the elephants at the zoo” who “chortles often, especially for breakfast!” He weighs 13,900 pounds, stands 11 feet tall and is a favorite among his keepers and zoo visitors.
Work to move Artie to The Sanctuary took place in collaboration with other Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) facilities, according to North Carolina Zoo CEO and Director Pat Simmons.
“Meeting Artie’s needs at this stage of his life as an older bull was a priority. The decision for Artie to move to The Elephant Sanctuary, given their large habitat spaces, excellent husbandry facilities, and multiple African elephant residents, provides Artie with the best opportunities for lifetime care and social well-being as he ages,” Simmons said.
“The Sanctuary has been working with our AZA colleagues at North Carolina Zoo to plan for Artie for many months,” CEO Janice Zeitlin said. “Artie transitioned easily into the new Elephant Health Care Center barn and has spent the past few days exploring his new habitat, tossing mud, pushing trees, and meeting his Care Staff. We applaud all those who have helped Artie with this next chapter of his life, and The Elephant Sanctuary looks forward to posting updates as we learn more about the newest and largest Sanctuary herd mate!”
The Sanctuary began collaborating with AZA colleagues in late 2021 to help plan for Artie’s move to Tennessee as an aging bull. The zoo’s team made the decision to transfer him to The Sanctuary in order to provide him with the best opportunities for lifetime care and social well-being as he ages.
Upon Artie’s arrival, he was promptly greeted by The Sanctuary’s Vet Team and Care Staff with plenty of water, fresh-cut fruits, vegetables, and hay, The Sanctuary said in its announcement. The Elephant Health Care Center’s two-stall heated barn has 3.6 acres of habitat space, which will provide Artie ample room to explore, per The Sanctuary. Over the coming weeks, Artie’s health and individual needs will be the focus as he becomes acquainted with his new environment.
Artie is The Sanctuary’s first permanent bull, which will provide a “great learning opportunity” for the group. So far, Artie has adjusted well to his new home and is exploring the environment.
“Artie has been alert, listening, and exploring his environment. Patience and a good balance of management approaches will help him to acclimate,” said Kristy Eaker, Senior Manager – Elephant Care. “He has really taken to the habitat, already exploring the entire space, foraging, rolling in the mud, and pushing on small pine trees. Even with cooler temperatures, he has chosen to stay out of his heated barn and enjoy his habitat space. He is the sweetest, gentlest boy. We can’t wait to watch his transition and see him make The Sanctuary his home.”
In an effort to further cater to the needs of a bull, organizers have begun work on a new 10,000-sq-ft barn for Artie. The hope is it will be completed by the end of this year.
“The Sanctuary’s bull habitats will be equipped with stronger and taller steel fencing for the safety of the larger and stronger bulls,” Ashley Dehnke, Public Relations & Communications Manager, said. “The barns are designed with taller ceilings and more robust barriers. This area will also provide Artie with more social opportunities.”
Bulls can be highly social elephants, Dehnke said, and the hope is that Artie will become acclimated and comfortable with his new herd mates over time with the newer, larger habitat.
Currently, Artie has visual and auditory contact with three African female elephants as he is introduced to the new environment. With safety and comfort in mind, Denke told News 2, Sanctuary Care Staff are taking several steps to ensure a successful transition and introduction to others.
“The goal is for Artie to have as many social opportunities as possible, and to help him develop strong relationships with other elephants during this exciting new chapter of life,” she said.
While Artie is the largest herd member at The Sanctuary, he is by no means the oldest elephant there. Billie, and Asian female, is currently the oldest resident at 61 years old. Artie is 2 years older than The Sanctuary’s youngest resident, Sukari, who is 38.
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“The age of an elephant can vary based on if the elephant(s) are wild or in captivity,” Eaker said. “Wild elephants tend to have longer lifespans, averaging from 50-60 years old. If captive, their overall management and healthcare will affect how long they live, but the average lifespan is around 40 years old. Elephants, both Asian and African, have the capability of living into their 70s. Shirley, an Asian elephant who passed away peacefully at The Sanctuary in 2020, was 72 years old.”