ghandi the elephant

A Christmas Miracle for Ghandi the Elephant

An update on Elephant Haven European Elephant Sanctuary by Maria Slough

Back in the May issue of Vegan Life, we met Tony Verhulst and Sofie Goetghebeur of Elephant Haven European Elephant Sanctuary who in 2016 bought the piece of land in France that the sanctuary now stands on. Back in May, Tony told me that they never listened to the people that said, ‘you will not succeed’, and thank goodness they didn’t.

After five long years of waiting, Elephant Haven European Elephant Sanctuary has welcomed its very first resident, a 52-year-old female called Ghandi.

Ghandi's Story

Her story is a common one amongst wild animals in captivity. Wild born, she was captured in Asia and transferred from the wild to Givskud Zoo, Denmark, in 1973 and then in 1998 she was entrusted to the former zoo of Pont-Scorff (now Les Terres de Nataé) by the park of Givskud, Denmark.

Gandhi is thought to have experienced some complicated and traumatic events in the past, in particular difficult relationships with some of her own kind which meant she was isolated from her fellow elephants for many years. These traumas have stayed with her.

With the knowledge that it is widely recognised that elephants are a social species, and with her welfare being the new management's absolute priority, Les Terres de Nataé sought to offer Gandhi the opportunity for a more suitable home – a place where she could gradually come into contact with other elephants in a new environment. It was important within this decision that her new home be as short a journey as possible given Gandhi's age and arthritis.

Elephant Haven European Elephant Sanctuary (EHEES) appeared, to all those involved in Gandhi's future welfare, to be the best destination that met their criteria. The EAZA Species Committee was consulted and approved EHEES as Gandhi's destination. Over the past few weeks, the teams involved worked closely together to prepare Gandhi for her trip to EHEES and this transfer also firmly cemented the constructive coalition between Les Terres de Nataé and the Brigitte Bardot Foundation (FBB), a very important partner organisation of EHEES, responsible for financing a large part of the indoor enclosure of the new facility. Furthermore, the planned transportation of Gandhi to her new home has been very much aided by collaboration between The Elephant Sanctuary Tennessee (TES) and Elephant Haven.


In a statement EHEES said ‘EHEES is privileged to have the cooperation and financial support of TES in this particular instance. Of course we are ultimately grateful to all our partner organisations and individual donors who stood firmly alongside us throughout our incredible journey so far. It is very much our intention to continue building relationships with those involved in elephant management, to share ideas and knowledge about their welfare. Knowing how many people have united in the effort to determine Gandhi's future, it is hugely encouraging to see how working together like this can achieve better outcomes for elephants and their wellbeing.’

This move means that Gandhi will benefit from several hectares of varied landscape, personalised care, and a large space designed for elephants to make their own choices, in a peaceful haven for the remainder of their lives.

ghandi the elephant

Adapting To Her New Home

I caught up with Tony and Sofie to congratulate them on this wonderful news just a few days after Ghandi arrived: “Updates on Gandhi's new life at Elephant Haven will follow,” they told me happily, “but for now we can share with you already that she loves watermelons, cut nettles, plums, parsley and lemon. Gandhi needs time to recover from the transport and adapt to the new environment, to her new life, it is a lot for her. Imagine, after being 23 years in the same space moving to somewhere completely different. Bit by bit she dares to go in the observation area, but still close to the barn. This will take time and we follow her pace.”

What a wonderful way to see out 2021 for EHEES and move forward as Europe’s first Elephant Sanctuary.

“We are here for her,” they say “and will give her a VIP treatment! She is such a gentle elephant, and once in a while she dares to show her character; so cute. We adore her.”

You can follow Ghandi’s journey at


Follow Maria’s photography journey at and Instagram at @mariasloughphotography


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