Animal Career Secrets Explores Elephant School. All content copyrighted 2007 by Diana L Guerrero. Some rights reserved.
There are many people who are enamored by elephants. The future is bleak for these massive creatures due to habitat loss, poaching, and other challenges. Of all the careers with elephants there are not too many places where you can get hands-on experience. One of those places is the Riddle’s Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary.
Riddle’s Elephant and Wildlife Sanctuary was established in 1990. Located in the Ozark Mountain foothills in Arkansas, the 330 acre site is an elephant paradise. Founded by Scott and Heidi Riddle (Heidi and I went to animal training school together), this non-profit sanctuary accepts any species of elephant.
The Riddle duo have extensive elephant experience. Scott has worked with a variety of elephants since 1965. His work has encompassed zoological management, private sector performances, and elephant consulting.
Heidi started her career with elephants back in 1981. She has worked with both sexes of Asian and African elephants, oversees the activities of the place, and serves in the Elephant Manager’s Association.
The sanctuary always has a variety of activities and projects going. Past activities include an intensive semen evaluation project, a veterinary training program for ultrasound and elephant examinations, behavior studies, and much more.
In addition to their elephant experience opportunities, one of their most popular programs is The International School on Elephant Management. Instituted in 1994, the course covers the essentials of elephant care and management. Nutrition, husbandry, foot care, reproduction, and conservation related issues are just some of the topics.
The curriculum is vast and includes: Anatomy, Behavior, Physical Maintenance, Chaincraft, Ropecraft, Medication and Disease, Handling of Difficult or Dangerous Elephants, Elephant Training Techniques, and Elephant Breeding.
The top elephant experts from all over the world can be found instructing. Students come from all over the United States and from countries such as Canada, Australia, England, Germany, Japan, Africa, Spain, Sweden, and many more places around the globe.
Students and instructors stay on the premises. Although space in the school is limited, the bunkhouse is very comfortable and can hold over twenty people. It is quite nice and has both shower and toilet facilities. I visited in the summer and it was comfortable and very clean. The big social interactions took place in the cook house which is not just a place to dine.
When we drove into the place the first thing we saw was three elephants meandering down by a natural pool. It isn’t something you see every day and the girls were having a good time. They get walked out in the am and then walk trunk to tail on their way back to the barns for the evenings. Elephants on parade!
Sadly, Heidi emailed me to say that the school has temporarily suspended the two week training opportunities at the elephant school. I didn’t ask why yet but assume it has something to do with the fact that they have two elephant calves due in the near future.
At the moment the opportunities include a Elephant Ultrasound and Veterinary Procedures Workshop for professionals, with the elephant specialist vet, Dr. Dennis Schmitt, once year around May.
AND the newest addition for the general public is an elephant experience weekend. You arrive on Friday and spend that evening and the next two days under supervision to get a taste of hands-on work with elephants. Heidi told me that these weekends are really popular and usually run April through June and then again in September and October.
If you live in the area, or plan to travel through, they also have a visitors day on the first Saturday of every month when the facility is open to guests. So, if you think you want to work with elephants, or if you are interested in getting a first hand look and feel for what it is like–try this program.
For more information visit the Elephant School section of the Riddle’s website.
On a side note, when I visited they were collecting semen for an artificial insemination program for elephants. Now, I’ve been an associate of a clinic that was a cryobank for dogs–but collecting from elephants takes the process to a whole new level!
Diana L Guerrero is an animal career specialist and has extensive experience in many areas of the animal world. A well known animal expert, she has worked professionally with animals for over thirty years. Guerrero is the author of several books and the host of the syndicated, Ark Animal Answers.