Elephants, particularly older individuals and those dealing with injuries and ailments, require a particular kind of care at sanctuary. Elephants are unique in their needs and their healing processes – so even those with experience caring for animals have a lot to learn about the specialized care required in this setting.
One of our caregivers, Mateus, recently began working with Maia during a footwork session. Mateus is a veterinarian, so he has experience treating animals, but just started his hands-on training with elephants a couple of months ago (it is a very long journey). Maia is an easy choice to help teach others, particularly in this scenario, because she is super easy with foot maintenance and treatments. Generally, we simply ask for her feet and she will put them exactly where they need to be and relax into the quiet moment. Maia allowed Mateus to hold her nose during the session and help her get into the correct position necessary for treatment. Both were a little uncertain of one another at first and closely watched each other’s movements. Eventually, both of them settled into their roles nicely and everything went smoothly.
Maia is a big presence and moves quickly, which can be intimidating for those who haven’t learned to read her moods and emotions. It is understandable that, even though she is easy to work with in these situations, caregivers must always be aware and in the moment with Maia.
All elephants seem to offer signs that reflect their moods, likes, dislikes, and potential behaviors. Learning this information is no simple task for new caregivers, so they must be committed to understanding the process; sometimes it is instinctual and simply can’t be taught by other people. While Scott and Kat can share their experiences with other caregivers, they all must learn to listen and build up trust with the elephants on their own. For instance, when treating Mara, we tell her when she is getting her shots and ask her to lean in. While she didn’t love it, she leans forward and squinches her eyes, waiting for the stick. She does this because of the relationships that have been built.
Elephants require a different level of intelligence and empathy in their treatment. They need to know that they have a choice. Each individual may respond to caregivers with trust and can show their true emotions, but only if they know you are bringing honesty to the relationship.