About us


Co-founder & Operations Director
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.

Co-founder & President
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.


Board Secretary
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.


Deputy Secretary
Lionel Chapelet

Lionel has worked with African elephants from 2001 to 2017 at the African Reserve of Sigean in the South of France where he was responsible for the "Elephant Sector".

He was in charge of managing a team of caretakers and setting up medical training procedures through the "Protected Contact".

Lionel obtained his certificate of competence for the the keeping of animals of non-domestic species of the Elephantidae family in a permanent public presentation establishment.

Lionel is the promoter of a project for male elephants in captivity, he is the founder as well as the president of the European Male Elephant Refuge association. He is committed to the cause of elephants in their natural environment and in captivity.

Lionel is passionate about elephants and only cares about their welfare.


Melina Sotiriou

Melina got to know Sofie, Tony and Nick in 2012 through their shared love of elephants.

Gradually, she started helping more and more and eventually became an active member. She helped organise the markets, benefit concerts and other events in Belgium.

After Sofie and Tony left for France, she became the contact person for EHEES in Belgium.

Furthermore, she deals primarily with the processing of donations, tax certificates and much more.

Eventually, she also became treasurer.

In her personal life, she has a full-time job in the logistics sector. Apart from that, her interests mainly go to her love for music, sports ( on TV ) and animals, including adoptive dog Mia.


Advocacy and Outreach Coordinator.
Louise Potts

Louise Potts is a Business Management graduate and retired Company Director.
Following a career in marketing management, she created her own successful eco brand in 2004, breaking new ground in the delivery of green, sustainable beauty products and contributing profits to both the Woodland Trust and Rainforest Foundation. After selling her company in 2009, Louise concentrated on volunteering in the charity sector with the aim of adding value where she could, at no cost, to the organisations she chose to work with.

It was one such social enterprise, Elephas Paris, that introduced her to EHEES in 2018 and she has never looked back.

Maintaining a long held belief in the principle of sustainability, Louise’s personal passion is elephant conservation and welfare, believing the 2 elements shouldn’t be separated when it comes to protecting this magnificent species.

Louise lives in the UK and divides her time between England and France, where she has a second home with her family.

Louise helps with liaison and strategy development with external parties.


Deputy - Administration and Communication
Nathalie Bouquerod

Nathalie has always been interested in living creatures, and after several trips to South Africa, she became fascinated by elephants - their life, their behaviour, their personality... everything prompts her to ask questions!

It was then that she and Jean-Louis decided to focus their life project on animal welfare, and, from her extensive research, she discovered EHEES in 2020.

It was only natural that she became a volunteer.

In order to dedicate herself more intensively to the sanctuary, she decided to move to Corrèze in 2021 and to use her professional and human skills to assist Sofie, which then led to her officially joining the team in early 2022.


Technical advisor
Jean-Louis Bouquerod

After having worked for more than 30 years as an electrical business manager for various French companies, Jean-Louis turned to other causes to which he remains attached.

After several trips to South Africa, he and Nathalie decided to invest in an animal welfare project. After researching the internet to find out how to help this cause at a level appropriate to his skillset, he joined us as a volunteer.

He proposed the creation of a video protection system that he could install with the help of his network in January 2021. Since then he has been maintaining and repairing our electrical installation when necessary.

Jean-Louis also helps us with a variety of other tasks.


Partnership and Fundraising Assistant
Noemie Allali

Noemie is one of our volunteers who has been very involved with EHEES since 2016.

She brings us her experience in terms of partnerships and fundraising.

Her passion for wildlife has always led her to travel a lot. Her encounters with elephants in nature reserves in Africa have strengthened her deep attachment to the species and her desire to develop protection and education projects.

Like the whole team, her mantra is that it is truly possible to move mountains, despite the obstacles, by being patient and never ceasing to believe.


Marc Heydens

Some things happen by chance, and so it was through reading an article in an animal magazine that Marc came into contact with EHEES.

After a career as an engineer in the chemical sector, he decided to take early retirement at the end of 2015.

Since then, he has been employed full time as the personal butler of a charming cat.

Marc helps with translations.


IT and Technology Owner
Vijayendra V S (Viju)

Viju comes from an IT background and is extremely passionate about nature & animals (specially elephants). Upon knowing about EHEES vision and objectives, Viju is associated with us ever since and dedicated for the cause.

Viju is responsible for IT & Technology in EHEES on a voluntary basis. He is exploring and deploying IT innovations, smart tools to have a better internal collaboration and enable a greater reach to our partners & contributors using the latest technology.