Are Elephant Families Like Human Families? (and some Big Payback news)

With Tamy’s fundraiser via The Big Payback less than a week away (May 5th – 6th), we’ve received a number of questions about Tamy – many about his relationship with Pocha and Guillermina, why he can’t be in the same enclosure with them now, and why they likely won’t spend much time together at Elephant Sanctuary Brazil.



Before answering, we have an exciting announcement. A very generous donor has offered a $50,000 match to go towards Tamy’s campaign! This is the largest donation match we have ever had and we are thrilled that each of our donors will have the opportunity to double your gifts, while bringing Tamy closer to sanctuary. Together we can do this.

Now back to the question. Elephant families are not built on a “nuclear family” structure, as human families can be. Male and female elephants do not raise their children together; rather, in the wild, baby elephants are raised in matriarchal female groups. Young males generally leave the herd approximately between the ages of 11 and 16. In other words, a wild elephant “family” comprises all ladies and male babies. Adult male elephants generally spend time with one another and do not play a role in raising and caring for their young. It would be inappropriate and likely damaging to separate a mother and daughter, like Pocha and Guillermina, because it is natural for them to be together for life. The same does not apply to fathers like Tamy. 

In the case of Tamy, Pocha, and Guillermina – while Tamy is Guillermina’s biological father, he may not see her as a daughter, in the way a human would. To him, she is likely viewed more as a female elephant of breeding age and he would possibly attempt to breed with her, given the opportunity. We do not encourage any attempts to breed within a sanctuary environment, particularly in this case. 

When he arrives at sanctuary, Tamy will know that Pocha and Guillermina are there, which will likely bring him some comfort in a new environment. He will be able to smell them and, potentially, be able to see them – in time and if that is what they desire. However, we don’t know how any of the three elephants will respond to their new lives at sanctuary. Pocha and Guillermina will be learning how to find their places in a herd of five other female Asian elephants. We don’t know how their relationship will evolve nor where they will choose to explore.

All three of these elephants coming from Mendoza will experience a world unlike what they have known for many years. This is a time for them to feel free to experience the joys of sanctuary on their terms, without added human pressures or expectations.  

Each elephant that arrives from the ecoparque is offered choice for the first time in decades or, in Guillermina’s case, ever. The sanctuary is designed to offer protection as well as autonomy; the same experience will be offered to Tamy and the male elephants as is available to the females. When construction is complete, there will be a corridor connecting the male and female Asian elephant areas. If the females chose, whether that be Pocha and Guillermina, or any of the other 5, they will be able to explore habitats that adjoin Tamy’s. Although males are not a daily presence in wild herds, they are highly social and we imagine that he will appreciate the companionship and social opportunities. 

All of this is a bit complex, but rest assured that the emotional and physical wellbeing of each resident is paramount. We will be sharing more information soon on the arrangement of the Asian male and female habitats, so that everyone can have a good idea of what it will look like for all of our residents and the potential that might be there for relationships to build. 


  1. REPLY
    Linda says

    It is so hard to look at that picture and think that all Guillermina has known… the ONLY THING she has seen… are those stone walls. That seems so bizarre to me and so heartbreaking. I can’t even begin to imagine how she will process seeing the grass and trees disappear into the distance – indeed, the very IDEA of ‘distance’ and ‘horizon’. I am glad she has her mother because I have to believe that at first it will be a very daunting experience. So excited for all of them! All of it, all because of you folks and what you do. Amazing, each and every one of you.

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      It takes all of us to make this possible. We each play our part in changing their worlds.

  2. REPLY
    Carol in BC, Canada says

    Wonderful news RE: donor match of $50K! Fantastic; wish I could tell the person THANK YOU… perhaps she/he will read it here. I appreciate that you share with us the bigger picture of how ESB operates and supports the Elephants who live there. I’ve learned a lot, and love these creatures more with every post you make – I really can’t wait to see what happens next!

  3. REPLY
    Wim says

    Very clear and complex times ahead. Wonderful their lives can restart a bit.
    They do carry a heavy load.

  4. REPLY
    Tammy says

    Thank you everyone this is all so exciting for the Elephants and that very amazing generous donor to match $50,000 dollars for Tamys campaign just unbelievable! I cant wait until this Elephant family of three gets to finally take their first step onto Sanctuary soil something sadly they were never able to do in their whole lives this is a complete game changer for them all and quite an accomplishment but nothing is impossible when good people come together for the good of animals and people in need ? ? ? ?

  5. REPLY
    Samantha says

    Im sorry if I missed it in the post but wx hat is the time period beginning and end for the matching? When do we need to donate in order to be matched?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      It is the 5-6th from 6 pm to 6 pm CST. We haven’t shared the link yet, but will post the day of the fundraiser. 🙂

  6. REPLY
    Christine Burgoyne says

    Spot on, I could not say it better myself.
    Thankyou Kat, Scott and all the team involved.????

  7. REPLY
    Katie Howard says

    WOW! $50 grand!!! That’s a phenomenal testament and vote of confidence in what GSE is all about and the way you and the team operate the Sanctuary! I am delighted to hear this and confident you will get every dime of that amount (and more) to obtain the Match. “A Match made in Heaven” 🙂
    I think ALL of us are watching, waiting and especially concerned about this mother/daughter transfer – the training challenges (especially for Guillermina), the transport during these COVID times, and their individual initial reactions to Sanctuary. It’s bound to be very overwhelming…
    And for the ladies at GSE now – you are increasing this wonderful, motley herd by nearly half again in one fell swoop!!! It’s a tremendous undertaking and, like you, we are excited/nervous/anxious & so very happy this is happening.
    Hurry up May 5th!!!

  8. REPLY
    Anita Janusz-Wong says

    Amazing news re the huge donation! I wish him/her and his loved once all the very best life can offer for this generosity! If I had the money I would be donating towards your sanctuary as much as possible as well….As it is I can only afford small but regular amounts every month…..I am exactly Like Linda…the image of those girls in that pit breaks my heart to pieces. And I visit this website obsessively every day to see if their quarantine has started. When it finally does I will be counting HOURS to their transport. So much to worry about especially for our little one….the long journey, new environment, new sounds, smells and noises… will be different planet! Can’t wait!! Love to all…xoxoxox

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      Every dollar makes a difference in their lives. 🙂 Thank you

  9. REPLY
    Terry says

    O My, read this yesterday , Tthank You so much for your amazing donation……… $50 grand <3 <3 You have a heart of Gold………… and are helping to make a difference in their lives — Again – Thank you!

  10. REPLY
    Carey says

    I look forward to seeing your plans for the male Asian habitat : )
    Could you please include the times on May 5 – 6 Big Payback for UK and EU?
    many thanks

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Thank you! The times are:
      BST Midnight, Thursday, May 6 – Midnight, Friday, May 7th

      CEST 1:00am, Thursday, May 6 – 1:00am, Friday, May 7th

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