About us - Members of the board

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Tony Verhulst

Tony Verhulst Founder worked at Antwerp Zoo / Planckendael between 1993 and 2015, where he cared for the elephants from 2001 on a full time basis.

From his childhood, Tony became passionate about the life of all animals, in particular the animals that depend on people. Tony has gained international experience with elephants and from this passion and knowledge the idea of Elephant Haven was born.

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



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Sofie Goetghebeur

Sofie Goetghebeur Founder/Treasurer worked at the Antwerp Zoo from 1993 till 2015.
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 has a sensitive nature and a respect for both 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 communication department.



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Frans Goetghebeur (13/04/1948 - 29/03/2018)

It is with great sadness that we inform you of the death of Frans Goetghebeur, president of the Association Elephant Haven, on Thursday 29 March 2018.

Frans was not only president of our association in France. He was also co-founder of the various centers of the Tibetan Institute in Belgium and for a long time chaired the Buddhist Union of Belgium and the European Buddhist Union.

He devoted a large part of his life to propagating a message of love, tolerance and compassion and promoting an open and altruistic dialogue between the communities.

We sincerely thank Frans for his unconditional support to our project and for his important contribution to Elephant Haven.

The presidency will be temporarily taken over by Sofie Goetghebeur.



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Nick Mertens

Nick Mertens Secretary graduated in paralegal studies and deals with many different fields of law and administrative departments as notary assistant. His experience is very important to expand 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 on how animals are coping in the wild in order to create more solidarity and harmony between man and animal.

Nick is devoted to his work as a guide in Planckendael zoo as well as to PACHYDERM through which he daily reaches thousands of people worldwide making them aware of the problems elephants living in the wild are facing. Through the years, he has built an impressive network. He is engaged in science popularisation through World of Zoology and ZOO Logisch.



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Lionel Chapelet

Lionel Chapelet Adjunct Secretary is a caregiver of elephants in the South of France and has been working with African elephants since 2001.

Lionel is responsible for an elephant department and has experience with:

  • Managing a team of elephant caregivers

  • Experience in medical procedures with elephants through protected contact


Lionel is passionate and very interested by this species. All he wants is their wellbeing.