About the Preserve

Preserving African Elephants in the Wild

Tembo Preserve Foundation is a non-profit organization formed with the goal to establish a permanent, one-of-a-kind sanctuary for retired zoo elephants. Located in Tehama County in Northern California, the 4,900-acre Tembo Preserve will significantly advance the management and welfare of captive African elephants by providing them the freedom to roam and forage an expansive habitat and form intricate social bonds as they would in the wild.

Our Mission

Tembo Preserve Foundation is committed to the conservation of African elephants in the wild. Tembo Preserve is dedicated to creating an elephant preserve in Northern California that provides a natural and engaging environment for elephants as well as inspires appreciation, supports research and develops innovative methods for supporting conservation.

African Elephants—Highly Complex and Social Animals

African elephants are amongst the world's most intelligent species, well-known for being highly social and behaviorally complex.


Elephant societies are arranged around family units, with each unit made up of around ten closely related females and their calves, led by an older female known as the matriarch. When separate family units bond, they form bond groups and clans. After puberty, male elephants tend to form alliances with other males. Elephants have a remarkably sophisticated and advanced social life and are capable of exhibiting behaviors such as grief, mimicry,  a sense of humor, generosity, compassion, cooperation, and self-awareness.

Elephants are also distinct for their ability to travel incredibly long distances to forage for the massive amounts of food they require and to make their annual migrations to the water sources they rely on during the dry season. Depending on environmental conditions elephants may migrate in individual family groups or several family groups, usually between two and five.

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Tembo Preserve—First of its Kind in the World

Tembo Preserve will provide an exceptional opportunity for elephants formerly held by zoos to live out the rest of their lives on eight square miles of grasslands, rolling hills and oak woodland in a yearly climate very similar to that of southern Africa.


Typically, zoo elephants live in relatively confined spaces with a small number of individuals, which does not allow them to express two of their most fundamental characteristics: that of being highly social, and of being a long distance migrator. Elephants in captivity can suffer a wide range of problems due to the impossibility to meet their social, behavioral and ecological needs leading to frustration, boredom and/or aggression. Captive elephants can also develop a range of health problems including obesity, foot infections, arthritis, low fertility and high infant mortality, among others.

Tembo Preserve will provide an exceptional opportunity for elephants formerly held by zoos to live out the rest of their lives on eight square miles of grasslands, rolling hills and oak woodland in a yearly climate very similar to that of southern Africa.

They will be able to move about and explore for food throughout the day keeping them physically and mentally fit and healthy. Over time, the elephants will form family units and multiple bull social groups and engage in the full range of social behaviors that make elephants the magnificent creatures that they are.

Managed by experts from the Oakland Zoo—a nation-wide leader in African elephant care—the Tembo Preserve will exceed the highest standards in diet, husbandry, medical management, physical well-being and overall welfare. Positive reinforcement training in a protected contact setting will be used to gain the elephants’ voluntary cooperation in their care, eliminating the need to ever force or physically restrain them.

Unprecedented Opportunity for African Elephant Research

Knowing as much as we can about this intelligent and socially complex species is a vital step to ensuring their long-term conservation.


The creation of the Tembo Preserve will offer field researchers the opportunity to study African elephants in a near wild setting, observing factors such as behavior, activity patterns, communication, ecological dynamics, genetics, and cognition. The Preserve will serve the dual purpose of addressing the lack of research available on captive African elephants, ultimately leading to advancements in the captive elephant experience.

This research will serve to:

  • Support the long-term conservation of African elephants
  • Contribute to the existing scientific body of knowledge on African elephants
  • Improve captive elephant care and management
  • Advance the understanding of elephant well-being

Enhancing Appreciation for Wildlife through Conservation Education

Inspiring respect for and stewardship of the natural world begins with our youngest learners.



Tembo Preserve Foundation will provide important education opportunities to the public to create awareness about wild animals and their habitats, and foster a sense of responsibility to care for and conserve them. On-site programs to include small group tours, as well as school field trips where children will learn about elephants and their conservation needs.

 Off-site opportunities to include distance learning for elementary through college levels, interactive elephant cameras, and fun, web-based life science programs for classrooms.


Partnerships for the Preservation of Elephants in the Wild


Tembo Preserve is proud to work with our Conservation Partners whose collective research has become a major resource for conservation efforts on behalf of African elephants. The Preserve’s numerous research programs will significantly contribute to our partners’ exceptional body of knowledge on African elephants.

 The Preserve’s education programs, tours and events will raise awareness as well as funds so that our partners can continue to carry out their vital work to preserve African elephants in the wild.

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"By providing the Tembo elephants with close to 5,000 acres to freely roam and socialize, the Tembo Preserve will not only benefit the Tembo elephants but, by raising funds for conservation and educating visitors about their extraordinary attributes, will benefit their endangered African wild counterparts."

Nick Brandt, President and Co-founder

Big Life Foundation

"Tembo Preserve is leading the way by providing space for elephants on the order of square miles rather than square feet. We value our conservation partnership with Tembo Preserve in which the true nature of elephants is respected, our experience from the wild is appreciated and our work for elephants is supported."

Joyce Poole and Petter Granli

Founders, ElephantVoices

"I am thrilled to be a conservation partner and look forward to working together to provide the best experience possible for Tembo Preserve elephants, as well as facilitate opportunities to learn from and improve the captive elephant experience, informed by our research on wild elephant social behavior."

Caitlin E. O’Connell-Rodwell, Ph.D.

Co-Founder, Utopia Scientific

© 2016 Tembo Preserve. All rights reserved.

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