Weekly Update: Chain Free Means Pain Free

chain-free-means-pain-free-just-look-at-this-happy-loving-familyChain free means pain free — just look at this happy, loving family.

14457423_1273834982646860_4444314854104071146_n“Man’s highest duty is to protect animals from cruelty.” — Emile Zola

captureThe ERNA land will provide elephants with autonomy in a natural, lush habitat filled with lakes, wooded areas and open pastures. Join us in helping these incredible animals thrive by donating today. Thank you for your continued support.

14481724_1275431695820522_7044993152666362946_o42 DAYS UNTIL CLOSING! Elephant dreams inch closer to becoming a reality as the ERNA land sale nears its finalization. Show your support today by visiting: elephantaidinternational.org/support

14519682_1275486852481673_8914519054289975268_nHow often are you able to dedicate your time to a cause that is important to you, such as elephant conservation?

14520579_1276901649006860_3795582997678227290_nThe word is getting out about EAI’s elephant foot trimming in Nepal. Private owners are requesting that their elephants receive foot trims whenever EAI staff are in the country. As part of our recent Foot Care Workshop, participants trimmed the feet of eleven Tiger Tops elephants and three elephants from Machan Wildlife Resort, a neighbouring resort. Ful Kali, one of Machan’s elephants, had overgrown and cracked nails. Even though this was her first pedicure, Ful Kali relaxed into it immediately, allowing Kevyn and Gigi to gain some serious foot trimming experience!

Weekly Update: The first workshop was a complete success!


The first workshop was a complete success, raising consciousness about the plight of captive-held elephants and training an enthusiastic group of elephant lovers in the art of foot trimming. The second workshop begins today.

A few days ago a surprise excursion took us to one of the remote hattisars (elephant stables) inside the Buffer Zone forest adjacent to Chitwan National Park. The group was treated to a sample of the remote chain-free corrals EAI built in 2014, one of 31 corrals built for government-owned anti-poaching patrol elephants in Chitwan National Park. Shankar Prasad is a large male who lives chain free without incident in the solar powered corral even though he could easy dismantle the fencing with his ivory which does not conduct electricity.
The mahouts in all of the locations we work have exceeded our expectations. They are interested, engaged and are excited to show the progress they have made with their elephants. Sundar Mala’s new mahout shows off his skill teaching her how to put her foot up on a stump for foot trimming.
During his musth season a male elephant covers tens of miles daily searching out receptive females and socializing with his offspring in many different herds.
Did You Know? Baby female elephants remain with their mother their entire life. The male calves are driven from the herd around age ten.
David Clark, a filmmaker with National Geographic, is currently at Tiger Tops Elephant Camp in Nepal documenting Carol’s work.

Weekly Update: Tiger Tops Elephant Camp is proving to be an amazing experience for all

3When teacher and student connect, the elephants benefit! EAI’s Elephant Foot Care Workshop at Tiger Tops Elephant Camp is proving to be an amazing experience for all

Herds of wild elephants grazing peacefully in the vast grasslands of India.

57 DAYS UNTIL CLOSING! The ERNA land and the surrounding climate are tailor-made for elephants, ensuring that each elephant who calls ERNA home will thrive.

Researchers have found that elephants are highly intelligent and capable of many human-like emotions, such as happiness, sorrow and even empathy.

Beautiful Jon taking a refreshing dip in the water.

“The pure joy an elephant exhibits when given a resemblance of freedom is what drives me to do more.” – Carol Buckley bit.ly/2cpBFhX


September 16, 2016 | Posted in: Weekly Update | Comments Closed

Weekly Update: Terra Mater Magazine Covers Carol’s Work in Nepal

Earlier this year, Terra Mater Magazine, Austria’s equivalent to National Geographic, sent a writer and photographer to cover Carol’s work in Nepal. Here is a link to the English translation.eai1Many of the elephants used for elephant back safaris suffer from severe nail splits.

eai2Carol and a team of volunteers began EAI’s bi-annual foot trimming in Sauraha this morning. The mahouts’ trimming skill level is measurably improved.

eai3As of yesterday, the Elephant Refuge North America (ERNA) fundraising total is at $871,565.39. Your donations will help make this elephant paradise a reality!

eai4Carol visiting with her Nepali family in Sauraha. From left to right: nanu (a term of endearment for a little girl), Shanti, Raju, Carol and Paspat (who is the elephant supervisor of National Trust for Nature Conservation).

eai5Carol boarding the plane from Kathmandu to Bharatpur on the way to foot trimming in Chitwan.

eai-6“Nature’s great masterpiece, an elephant; the only harmless great thing.” — John Donne. But in todays world, in response to the stress humans place on elephants in the wild and in captivity, elephants act out in ways contrary to their majestic nature.

eaiThe Elephant Refuge North America (ERNA) land is an elephant paradise, featuring 850 acres of pastures, lakes, and forests.



  • Over the last 6 years, EAI has freed 106 captive-held elephants from chains in Nepal, Thailand and India.
  • Did You Know: EAI designed and built the first solar powered chain-free corral in Asia?


Weekly Update: The Escrow Contract is Signed


 The Escrow Contract is signed! 75 days until closing. ERNA will build on what has come before, providing additional options for elephant rescues and retirement. Please participate in this grass roots project to create the next generation of elephant sanctuaries.

Did you know: There are over 300,000 muscles in an elephant’s trunk. Elephants’ strong trunks help them navigate through life, aiding in the ability to eat, bathe and protect themselves.

This magnificent beauty is happy to be bathing chain-free.

Did you know: Elephants gestate for 22 months before birth.


“Until one has loved an animal, a part of one’s soul remains unawakened.” — Anatole France

In Memory of Hanako

When I met Hanako less than two months ago, it was obvious to me that she was nearing the end of her life.

Hanako had spent close to seven decades in one of the most deprived environments I’ve seen.

Every surface in her barn and yard was covered with unyielding, moisture-robbing, highly abrasive concrete. There was not a blade of grass, a tree or a patch of dirt anywhere in the small space.

While at the zoo I learned that Hanako had recently stopped lying down to sleep. Instead of spending several hours each night on her side sleeping, she spent a lesser amount of time leaning against the barn wall, dozing.

After studying her records it was clear that Hanako’s appetite and drinking habits had also changed. The times when she would refuse to eat grew more and more frequent.

Hanako also refused to use her outside pool or allow her keepers to bathe her. As result her skin was dehydrated and her legs were stained with urine.

The staff could not account for these changes in Hanako’s behavior. But such changes are to be expected of an elephant of Hanako’s age.

It was heartbreaking to observe that her eyesight was failing, she shivered continually and she was physically inactive.

Each morning, until at least a month before her death, Hanako would walk the few feet from the barn to the outside concrete yard. There she would stand and engage in stereotypical behavior for hours before taking the few labored steps back inside her barn at the end of the day.

My first afternoon at the zoo I witnessed a change in Hanako’s behavior. Without any obvious provocation she seemed to startle from her catatonic state and began moving around her small yard.

Then the barn door opened and she became vocal and animated. She approached the door, placed her foot in the track and engaged in the most bizarre stereotypic routine I’d ever seen.  She pushed her toe into the track, pulled back as if her foot was caught in it, removed her foot and then repeated the sequence twelve times. Keepers later told me she did this stereotypical sequence every time before she entered the barn. Not always twelve times—sometimes more, sometimes less.

After completing her stereotypic ritual, Hanako rushed into the barn, moving with an uncharacteristic urgency as if someone was trying to keep her from entering. Her eyes lit up and she became very vocal.

I assumed she was excited about the pile of fresh vegetables and grass on the floor. But it was not the food. It was her keepers she was focused on.

Hanako was obviously excited to see her keepers and anxious for them to pet her. She offered her foot through the steel bars that divided the elephant and keeper spaces, leaned up against the bars and turned to receive pets on her backside and hip.

She chattered to her keepers the entire time, soliciting and savoring their every touch. This was a side of Hanako I had not seen—her comfort with and attachment to her keepers.

The keepers appeared to enjoy the interaction as well. But fifteen minutes later, Hanako’s allocated social time was over. As the keepers turned their attention to barn duties, I watched as Hanako slipped back into her detached state of mind.

The thermostat was set, water barrel checked, food swept into a neat pile, lights turned off, doors closed and keepers gone again until tomorrow. Once again Hanako was alone.

Failed by the system

Hanako was denied a natural life of freedom with her natal family simply because humans are intrigued by this species. But humans failed her time and time again.

Even if they wanted to, the zoo staff was unable to evaluate Hanako’s health scientifically. Hanako and her keepers weren’t trained to carry out basic health checks and her antiquated facilities did not provide a safe environment for medical testing or treatment. Aside from tranquilizing Hanako, there was no safe way to compile a comprehensive medical work up.

The government owns and runs all the zoos in Japan. The keepers are rotated throughout the zoo system, transferred to a different zoo every two years. Knowing the social complexity of elephants, having keepers rotate in and out of Hanako’s life so often would have been stressful, even traumatic.

Decades ago Hanako had an extremely close relationship with one of her keepers. After he died she reportedly became aggressive and as result was kept chained for a length of time.

It is reasonable to assume that Hanako suffered both physically and psychologically from her lack of companionship and physical activity. In Hanako’s case, her social isolation was the most detrimental. But the damage inflicted on her by her isolation was never measured.

Taking comfort in the familiar

Hanako had a decades-long reputation of reacting negatively to changes in her facility and routine. As she aged, her tendency to be inflexible increased.

Weeks before Hankako died, the zoo installed a safety fence on the outside wall of her barn. Their hope was that by providing a secure outside space, the keepers and Hanako would spend more quality time together, something we all agreed would benefit her. Although the fence was not one of my recommendations, I completely understood why the zoo made the effort.

Unfortunately, directly following fence construction, Hanako refused to leave her barn. Since the construction was the most obvious change in Hanako’s life, it was blamed for her behavior.

In her tender psychological state Hanako might have been frightened and even traumatized by the noisy power tools drilling into the wall of her barn. The noise and vibrations most certainly could be heard and felt by Hanako, locked inside. Although it is reasonable to believe she was upset by the construction, another scenario should also be considered.

Hanako was dying, growing weaker day by day. Apparently she derived comfort from being inside her barn. She could conserve energy she would otherwise have wasted walking out to a barren yard that provided neither shade nor shelter from the cold. In her condition, the barn was likely the most comfortable place for her.

Too late for Hanako but not for other elephants

The zoo said that a necropsy will be conducted. The results will most likely point to death by natural causes. It is true that Hanako’s body condition was good for an elephant of her age, but there is no way to determine what her emotional and psychological condition were.

Against all odds, Hanako lived to the ripe old age of 69. Surprisingly, she was not emaciated or crippled and did not develop osteomyelitis or the pressure wounds that are so common among elephants kept on concrete. But even though her body served her well, captivity took its toll on her heart and mind.

Hanako’s celebrity increased near the end of her life as she became the focus of a worldwide effort to move her. It’s unfortunate her deprived existence didn’t come to light five years ago, ten years ago or even two decades ago, when she could have benefited from being moved.

But, although Hanako did not benefit personally from her celebrity, other elephants will.

Immediately after Hanako’s death the zoo announced the good news that it will not replace her with another elephant.

The truth is that Hanako is irreplaceable.



Nature At Her Finest

Sitting on my deck one late afternoon overlooking the gently flowing Buffalo River, I settled into the calm of nature listening to the many birds whose voices filled the air.

One particular bird, a cardinal, was acting in an unusual manner, hopping from branch to branch, about eye level. His sharp high-pitched chirp seemed to be directed at me.

I looked around and realized what she was upset about. There on my deck, not 5 feet from me, was a baby bird. Not quite a fledgling, obviously out of the nest too early. Instantly I understood her behavior: a dad concerned for his baby.

After moving out of the way so mom could guide her chick to safety, progress was seriously slow. The chick was so young, so weak, not capable of the feat required of her.

After urgent encouragement from mom, the chick flew a couple of feet. Just when I was sure she would plummet into the river below, she reached out her spindly leg and grabbed a twig and righted herself but could not be urged to make another attempt at flight.

All the while her father darted to her, then flew off again to a branch not too far away, calling in that high-pitched plea. But the chick was done for the day; she would not move.

Dad flew off and there was only silence. I was saddened to think that the mother had abandoned his chick. I rationalized that he probably realized the chick would not survive the night. But to my surprise Dad returned minutes later, and several more times over the next 15 minutes, bringing his baby food, which the chick ate ravenously.

The sun set, the birds quieted and I went to bed sad, convinced the baby bird would die overnight.

When I woke to that familiar high-pitched chirp, I assumed it was another fearless father caring for another chick in peril. But my heart nearly burst and tears streamed down my face when I saw the same little chick hanging on for dear life in the exact same place as last night.

Dad was darting back and forth trying to get the chick to follow him to a safer place, away from the water. The chick made two gallant attempts at flight, managing to put a few feet between her and the river below.

Dad rewarded her with another feeding frenzy. I was encouraged and amazed by their tenacity, determination and grit.

Throughout the day, the silence would be broken by Dad calling his baby closer and closer to safety. I tracked them, staying my distance so as not to interfere. The chick spent another night away from her nest, but by day three she was back under the safe wing of her mother.

By now she is probably fully fledged and gone from the nest, soaring and learning the lessons she will need next year when she raises her own chicks.

I felt honoured to be witness to the scene as it unfolded. This mother bird did everything possible to ensure the safety and survival of her chick. You can call it maternal instinct, survival instinct or just natural behavior, but I call it love.

May 22, 2016 | Posted in: General | Comments Closed


Three days have passed since I was in Japan to meet Hanako and assess her welfare.

Hanako has lived at the Inokashira Park Zoo for the majority of her 69 years. Her small concrete exhibit, antiquated dry moat and solitary existence are a far cry from what nature intended for this wild-born, highly evolved, social being.

In a better world Hanako would have lived her entire life with her extended family of mother, sisters, nieces, aunts and grandmother. Knowing that Hanako has been denied her natural life has led many people to believe that she must be miserable.

The common consensus was that moving Hanako to a sanctuary is the only way to improve her life. Under different circumstances that might be true.

But after visiting with Hanako and seeing her for myself, I realized that moving her now, at this stage in her life, is not an option. I prepared a report for the zoo with many recommendations for how staff can improve her life. Moving Hanako to a sanctuary was not one of them.

The news that Hanako will not be moved to a sanctuary resulted in an outpouring of emotional responses from her supporters worldwide. Many were angry. Some could not accept the fact that such a move would traumatize this geriatric elephant, causing her more harm than good. The universal reaction shared by all was mourning Hanako’s lost opportunity for freedom.

No one is more heartbroken than I that Hanako will never experience her birthright, living in a natural environment with trees, grass and other elephants. It would have been a dream come true, if not for Hanako’s advanced age, lack of teeth, failing eyesight, frailness, change in sleeping habits (she no longer lies down to sleep) and inability to cope with change. Hanako’s reality is that she is a senior citizen in hospice care.

I am convinced that zoo staff are sincere in their intention to better Hanako’s situation. Ulara, who is spearheading this effort for Hanako, will work diligently with them to implement the changes I recommended.

Even though Hanako will not be moved from the zoo, the deficiencies she has lived with for decades will be addressed. The outdated moat can be filled in or fenced off to keep her from falling in. Rubber flooring is a quick and viable solution to hard, cold concrete surfaces. Additional behavioral enrichment objects will help stimulate and keep Hanako active. Strategically placed infrared heaters and automatic waterers will increase her comfort. And Hanako’s keepers, whom she is so very fond of, will be encouraged to spend more time interacting with her to satisfy her social needs. This arrangement is not perfect, but Hanako will benefit from the improvements.

My goal for Hanako is to enrich her life while respecting her limitations. She is a grande old dame who has given her life to the people of Japan. In her final days, every effort should be made to bring her comfort and ensure that she feels loved, on her terms.

Hanako’s Report submitted to the zoo

March 11, 2016 | Posted in: General | Comments Closed

The Measure of Success

EAI’s Chain Free Means Pain Free project, which frees elephant from chains is the first of its kind in Asia. Honestly I was surprised to learn that such an effort had never before been attempted for the thousands of captive-held elephants used in the tourist industry all over Asia.

Solar powered high tensile wire fencing is a simple and relatively inexpensive solution to the decades-long practiced of chaining elephants to a stake in the ground.

When our Chain Free Means Pain Free project was completed in Nepal in April 2015, I breathed a sigh of relief and felt flush with appreciation for what we’d accomplished.

It was not an easy project, working in remote areas, many times with no means to transport fencing materials, except on our backs. We crossed rivers, hiked through miles of jungle and dealt with hostile locals who saw the areas selected by the government for elephant corrals as their domain.

And then there were the naysayers, people incapable of embracing change, who made progress slower than necessary.

But through all the trials and tribulations, downpours, leaky roofs, river crossings, miles hiked in the searing heat and skeptics, we prevailed, creating corrals for 54 elephants and releasing them into their personal chain-free sanctuaries.

Without exception, introductions to the corrals were a phenomenal success, including for a few adult males with long tusks. Why not? The elephants clearly understood the freedom they were being given. Freedom and autonomy are great healers for a soul enslaved for decades. Each, without hesitation or concern, melted into the lush habitat that was their new home.

Mahouts feared change

Before their elephants were released from chains, the mahouts lost sleep, fearing that their elephant would take advantage of the freedom and become feral.

The consistency of the their fear surprised me. I naively assumed that mahouts knew elephant behavior and understood that freedom from chains reduces stress, which results in the elephants relaxing and becoming more cooperative. But they thought the opposite.

It was from this experience, repeated with every mahout, that I learned how little mahouts actually know about elephant psyche and behavior.

Hours spent in the hattisar (elephant stable) with the mahouts and the elephants taught me that most mahouts do not recognize an elephant’s most characteristic behaviors, such as playing, socializing, bonding and grieving.  Mahout knowledge is limited to how to control an elephant and avoid getting killed. So much of what they think they know is superstition and folklore.

The first time the mahouts observed an adult elephant playing in her new corral they panicked. The mahouts wanted to stop her, control her, because they thought she was becoming aggressive. Awareness of an elephant’s emotional life or physical suffering is not something they are taught. Even minor physical problems are ignored until they become serious and require veterinary attention.

Different approach to unchaining pays off

As result of the time I spent observing the mahouts with their elephants, I realized I needed to approach the unchaining process differently. I needed to teach the mahouts about their elephants—their behavior, fears, likes and dislikes—and explain why unchaining affects elephants in a positive way.

This approach paid off. Even though some mahouts remained skeptical, most felt more confident in my promise that their relationship with their elephant would get better, not worse.

No success without sustainability

Another lesson I’ve learned though our Chain Free Means Pain Free project is that we must build sustainability into foreign projects.

It is not enough to provide a great product with stellar results if the locals are not able or willing to sustain it.

I returned to Nepal eight months after completing 54 chain-free corrals to find that few were actually still functioning and being used. I was devastated.

It seemed incomprehensible that minor repairs were not even attempted. In some cases, fully functioning corrals housed elephants on chains!

But I knew there had to be a solution. I simply would not give up. Sustainability is the measure of success and I was determined to keep these elephants off chains.

EAI hires Nepali manager

Last November, thanks to generous underwriting from supporter Donna Marshall, EAI hired a manager for our projects in Nepal.

Kulendra Kunwar, a native Nepali, was well known to EAI prior to being hired. He’d volunteered in the spring of 2015 during corral construction at the largest hattisar in Khorsor. He proved to be a valuable asset then and the perfect manager for our project now.

In just a few short months, thanks to Kulendra’s ability to repair corrals and educate and motivate the mahouts, 14 out of 15 hattisars now have corrals that are fully functional.

Of these 14 hattisars, all but two keep their elephants chain free 24/7. Those two keep their elephants chain free during daylight hours but, due to fear of the area’s poisonous king cobra snakes and tigers, the elephants are chained close to the home fires of the mahout housing at night.

New mahout housing means chain free elephants

There is an easy solution for the two hattisars (Sukivar and Khoria Mohan) that fear the poisonous snakes and tigers.

Currently, the mahout housing—a simple two-room wooden shack, outhouse and outdoor cooking area—is several hundred yards from the corrals.

If we raise the funds to build mahout housing adjacent to the corrals, the elephants will be left off chains 24/7.

Our goal is to raise $16,500 for improvements at the two hattisars. As soon as the funds are raised, housing in both hattisars can be built and the elephants can once again be left chain free 24/7. If you would like to donate, you can do so here.

I am quite the optimist, dogged about my dreams. Hard work and seemingly impossible challenges don’t scare me off, although I do wonder why some things have to be so difficult. Then I remember that there is Nepali time and there is U. S. time, polar opposites in many ways. But there is never a time to give up.

Please join me in continuing to dream the dream that releases elephants from chains, reunites loved ones and changes culture to benefit captive-held elephants and the people who care for them.

February 27, 2016 | Posted in: General | Comments Closed

Elephant Slaves

Another predawn awakening, like a recurring dream.

I’m woken abruptly from a deep sleep by the heart wrenching cries of a suffering elephant. All I can do is swing open my window and yell into the pitch black night, “Hatti la na pita!” (Don’t hit the elephant!). My plea echoes through the darkness, landing on deaf ears.

It is not yet dawn, the time when most elephants savor their sleep. My heart clinches when I hear the too familiar crack of a bamboo stick across the hide of an elephant slave.

I try to block the sound and associated pain from my ears but I cannot. The reality and degree of suffering experienced by captive-held elephants in Chitwan National Park is unconscionable.

If it were not for a drive to improve the lives of the elephants used in Chitwan National Park, admittedly I would never come back to this place. The air is perpetually thick with the sights and sounds of elephant suffering.

The apathy among tourists and owners alike is mind-boggling. Both the mahouts and the elephants in their care are merely money-making machines, no more.

The elephants’ day begins before sunrise and ends after most tourists are in their rooms preparing for sleep.

Before the rooster crows, the chained elephants are roused from their slumber and forced by threat of physical punishment to eat, drink and be readied for safari rides for the hundreds of tourists who visit Chitwan National park every day of the year.

The elephants’ food consists of cuchi—rice wrapped in mildewed, dehydrated rice hay—so unpalatable they must be beaten to eat it. The mahouts will strike them repeatedly with bamboo sticks until they have eaten.

Mel Kali—the lucky one

In the far distance I hear the familiar trumpet call of Mel Kali. She is one of the lucky elephants in Nepal.

Mel Kali was retired two years ago. She is the only retired elephant in Nepal. As a result of her advanced age—72—and near-death experience two years ago, Mel Kali is finally allowed to live a pseudo-elephant life, free to wander the national park free of riders and the continual domination of her mahouts.

Abuse woven into the fabric

Many tourists come to Chitwan National Park for elephant entertainment, but I come because of the elephant suffering. To experience their pain and not make an effort to help seems unconscionable.

It is not possible for me to return to my relatively cushy life in the US and forget the elephants’ pain. Their cries tear at my heart. Their incarceration and treatment boggle my mind. It seems like a dream, but it is reality for the elephants 24/7, 365 days a year, for their entire lives. It is an elephant slave camp.

When I am in Nepal it is my policy to stay only at guest houses that do not own an elephant. It is my way of not contributing to the exploitation and abuse.

But it is impossible to avoid the abuse completely; it is woven into the fabric of Chitwan National Park.

At all hours of the morning and evening, the haunting cries of elephants echo across the landscape of dozens of tourist hotels. They live in filthy stables, experience continual harassment and beatings and work from sun-up to sundown carrying heavy loads of riders seeking a fun day in the national park. I cannot help but absorb the feelings of despair and pain the elephants experience. How can the tourists, elephant owners, conservation organizations and locals be oblivious to such obvious suffering? What has become of the human race that we are so insensitive to the cries of others?

Progress is slow but steady

Hatti la na pita—do not hit the elephant¬—were the first words I learned after arriving in Nepal five years ago. A phase lost on most. But now, all these years later, the mahouts are familiar with my request. Although they do not comprehend why I ask that they not hit their elephants, out of respect for my work, most refrain from hitting their elephant in my presence.

But seeing the abuse is not the only way to sense an elephant’s suffering. I am now hyper-sensitive to the sharp crack of the bamboo stick, the body language of an abused elephant, the demanding guttural commands of the mahouts and the oppressive energy in the elephant slave camps.

After spending more than two dozen months in Nepal working closely with our Nepali partners to improve elephant welfare, I am discouraged by the slow process.

But I must remember that we have succeeded in influencing many mahouts to treat their elephants more kindly; educated private and government owners alike about the welfare needs of elephants; and, most recently, freed 56 captive-held elephants from chains by creating chain-free corrals. The lives of these elephants are seriously improved.

And we will not stop until all elephants in Nepal are treated and fed properly, and are living chain-free.