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Elephants: No Place Like Home

As 2020 limps to her strange finale and Americans retreat to their homes to wait out a ravenous virus I find myself thinking about sanctuary.

What, after all, constitutes sanctuary?

2020 saw Kaavan, dubbed the “world’s loneliest elephant,” make his star-studded (thank you Cher) flight from a barren zoo enclosure in Pakistan to the verdant fields of Cambodia. Followed by the long-awaited court ruling that Nosey (formerly owned by serial abusers and schlepped around the country providing rides) could live out her days at the Elephant Sanctuary in TN.

As economic hardship descends upon vast swaths of humanity, thousands of individual donors banded together to fund (in record time) the urgent rescue of elephants from a sub-standard zoo in Argentina and critical expansions of chimp sanctuaries all over the US in order to create appropriate homes for former entertainment and research primates stuck in a defunct rescue in Southern California.

Humans get sanctuary.

The dictionary defines sanctuary as “a place of refuge or safety” and for the elephants, chimps, and us humans that description is spot on. Sanctuary offers us all a space to return to ourselves, to be free of abuse and fear, living a life that suits us, heal, lick our wounds, reevaluate our choices, make peace.

On a personal level, sanctuary is particularly resonant this year with Arte for Elephant’s travel plans postponed and our soul feeding, art events collapsing, David and I made the decision to return, back to where it all began in Southern California. The stress and uncertainty of this season created a powerful yearning to head south, to be surrounded by our friends and family (albeit without actually seeing them) in an environment that is familiar. We felt a desperate desire to navigate familiar streets and cast our eyes upon vistas rich with personal history.

Just like Kaavan romping through his huge new space, or a chimpanzee, Willy B (at Chimp Sanctuary NW), touching grass with his toes for the first time in his life, there is a certainty, maybe deep in our DNA, that knows exactly where we belong, longs for natural things, craves family, comfort, home.

This bone deep desire to see souls where they truly belong is what drives us and countless activists around the planet to take risks, challenge powerful people, institutions, and perceptions often without any guarantee of success. If you so much as signed a petition to close down an animal testing laboratory, sent a penny towards a rescue or protested unjust captivity for any living creature, congratulations, you’re in, you get sanctuary.

So as all of us retreat to our safe spaces this holiday season finding hope and refuge in the familiar and precious, let’s not forget those worthy souls lingering in chains, in lousy zoos, in factory farms and breeding pens. Let’s emerge from this event with turbo charged determination. Let’s build those new sanctuaries and finally Free Lucy.

After all, doesn’t everyone deserve a place to call home?

*For the month of December 20% of all sales will go to Lucy's Edmonton Advocates Page to help with their ongoing efforts to support the rescue of Lucy, who has been living alone at a zoo in Edmonton Canada for 40 years.

*** Please visit our Arte for Elephants shop and thank you for supporting your local and independent artists this holiday season!

(Photo credits: David Rutter, Arte for Elephants- taken at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai Thailand and Amboseli National Park. Kenya-on Big Elephant Magic Retreats)

Thyra Rutter is Artist and Co-Founder of Arte for Elephants a philanthropic art/retreat business that donates a portion of every sale to help sanctuaries around the world. To date, AFE has raised and donated over $53,000. Find out more at

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