12 former circus elephants move to new home at White Oak Conservation in Yulee

YULEE, Fla. — White Oak Conservation welcomed 12 Asian elephants, former circus elephants into their new habitat this month.

Ranging in age from 8 to 38 years old, these elephants traveled over 200 miles in customized trucks to get to their new home.

They previously traveled with the Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey Circus.

They initially stayed in climate controlled paddocks to get acclimated to their new space, and just recently ventured out into their new home consisting of pine forests with ponds, wetlands, and open grasslands.

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Their new habitat is large enough for the elephants to choose whether to stay close by the barn, near their human caregivers, or venture out into the woods, wallow in the mud, or swim in the ponds.

White Oak brought in an expert team to design the facilities and care for the elephants. Nick Newby is the leader of the team.

“Watching the elephants go out into the habitat was an incredible moment,” Newby said. “I was so happy to see them come out together and reassure and comfort each other, just like wild elephants do, and then head out to explore their new environment. Seeing the elephants swim for the first time was amazing.”

Making a home for natural behavior and social bonds is part of White Oak’s philosophy, and keeping family groups together is very important.

The first 12 elephants to move into White Oak includes two sets of full sisters, and several half-sisters.

There will be 20 more elephants joining the habitat at White Oaks, but their space is still under construction.

They are building nine interlinked areas open for the elephants on White Oak Conservation’s 17,000 acres.

The elephants will have plenty of space to wander and exercise.

There will be 11 water holes and three barns, all designed specifically to suit the elephants’ needs. They will be easily accessible and have high-tech veterinary equipment.

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The additional 20 will join the first herd of 12 when the construction is complete.

“In the last few years, everything has changed for these elephants for the better — from their retirement to the way they interact with humans and the space they have to roam,” said Steve Shurter, White Oak’s executive director.

“For the first time in their lives, these elephants can choose where and how they want to spend their days.”

Bailey Husker, Action News Jax

Bailey Husker is a digital content producer and assignment editor for Action News Jax.