To create a sustainable loving home for retired elephants.


To offer elephants a place to retire.

To re-socialise and rehabilitate elephants.

To give information about and research elephants and their complex needs and behaviours.

To encourage others to think about and contribute to a world of respect and protection for elephants and their habitat.



Tony Verhulst and Sofie Goetghebeur start working in Antwerp Zoo in Belgium

2011 Elephant Haven founded by Tony Verhulst and Sofie Goetghebeur with the vision to create Europe's first retirement home for elephants.


Non-profit-organisation in Belgium is created.

Conservation partners with Elephant Action League (EAL).

Start our search for the perfect land.

September, first interview in the Belgian paper.


April, first looked at the property here in Haute Vienne, France.

June 24, official support from BLES, Mahouts foundation and EARS.

July, our first big donation!

July, signed the Compromise de Vente for the land in Oradour-sur-Vayres, France.

September 22, move to France.

November 14, first interview in the French press (Le Populair).

November 17, launch of cooperation with Pink Chillies and Da Hong our elephant.

November 28, Elephant Haven becomes partner of Association Natura Animalia.

December 2, Association 1901 in France is created.

With a robust website and a board of advisors Tony and Sofie moved to the designated country France, where land space was identified. In September 2014 they moved to the Limousin region and started the necessary paperwork to ensure that Elephant Haven could be registered and planning begun to bring the project to life.

Why the retirement home needs to exist

Where does an elephant go to retire?

  • Elephants can reach the age of 60 or more. There are currently 141 elephants in circuses and 540 elephants living in zoos across Europe. A ban on elephants in circuses is currently sweeping throughout Europe, where can the elephants go?
  • Relocating the elephants back to their country of origin is not always a realistic option.
  • We want to offer older elephants and elephants who need medical care a place to enjoy their elderly days.
  • There is no retirement home for elephants in Europe.

How will this be achieved?

As a non-profit organisation in Belgium (VZW) and France (Association 1901), we are reliant upon the goodwill of our supporters to help raise sufficient funds to secure the purchase of the land at Oradour-sur-Vayres, France.

About us


tonyTony Verhulst [Founder/President] has been working at the Antwerp Zoo / Planckendael since 1993, where he has been caring full time for the elephants since 2001.Since his childhood, he has felt involved in the fate of all animals, in particular animals that depend on people. Tony has gained international experience with elephants. From this passion and knowledge the idea to create Elephant Haven evolved.

He is responsible for the care of the elephants, the development of the habitats and making the care plans for the elephants.




sofieSofie Goetghebeur [Founder/Treasurer] has been working at the Antwerp Zoo since 1993. She has experience in the care of birds, small monkeys, okapi, marine mammals, gorillas, orangutans, chimpanzees coming from an animal centre, and elephants. Sofie has a heart for animals and is very passionate and motivated about this project. She is a sensitive person, appreciating nature and peace for humans and animals.

She is partly responsible for the care of the elephants, the development of the habitats and making the care plans. Sofie is also active in the communications department.




nickNick Mertens [Secretary] graduated in paralegal studies and deals with many different fields of law and administrative departments as notary assistant. His experience assists with the expansion of the network of Elephant Haven and to develop contacts with government institutions. Despite what his training and profession might suggest, he has always had a passion for animals as well. From a very young age he would read anything he could find on animals and he would frequently visit zoos.

His mission is clear and obvious: as many people as possible need to be informed about how animals are coping in the wild in order to create more solidarity and harmony between man and animal.


lionelLionel Chapelet [Adjunct Secretary] is an elephant head keeper in the South of France and has been working with African elephants since 2001. Lionel is passionate about this species and is very interested by them. All he wants is their wellbeing.

Working members:

Melina Sotiriou [Belgium]

Tina Plessers [Belgium]

Micala Wilkins [France]

How can you find Elephant Haven

Website -



Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


 Logo-Elephant-Havenlogo elephant haven 310










Recent press publications

*First big interview Belgium (sept 2012) in journal Gazet van Antwerpen


belgian-mag*Story Belgian magazine









*Living Magazine October (first time in English magazine)

*first interview in French press, Le Populaire



When we went to sign the Compromise de Vente

France 3, Limousin reportage

Links to interviews

*Kaolin fm 88,9 dec 2014

*RMC (2,40 -8,40) dec 2014


*RADIO ; RFC Charente , Anglofile  di 17febr 2015, 20,00u / zo 22febr 11,30:


Media interviews and images are available upon request

For more information please contact

Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

or call 0033 7 82 62 55 01

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