Bambi and Rana’s Evolving Relationship

Since her arrival, Bambi has been a colorful example of how dynamics among elephants in sanctuary can shift with the entrance of a new individual. Not only are new relationships formed, but relationships that already exist between elephants who have known each other for years can also change. Every individual here has her own relationship with every other individual, one-on-one.

Bambi’s appearance at sanctuary has been relatively positive in that it has created a strong bond among Mara, Rana, and herself. But it has inevitably changed the relationship between Mara and Rana that existed long before her arrival and the relationships between Maia, Rana, and Mara. As a result of this shift in dynamics, we have seen interesting things emerge – like the growing bond between Rana and Maia. 

Bambi and Rana’s relationship seems to be somewhat cyclical; there is a bit of ebb and flow. Bambi is at Mara’s side at almost every given opportunity. When Mara is having dinner and Bambi has some time alone with Rana, you can often see them having gentle and affectionate moments. Other times, there is a little bit of subtle conversation between the two over who is the “boss” at the moment. In moments when Bambi wants to assert herself, there might be a twinkle in Rana’s eye that seems to say, “Okay. I’ll let you think you are in charge,” and it is endlessly amusing. There have not been any drastic moments of pushing or fighting, though there have been a few instances of head nudging. We get a sense of how they are relating to one another by watching their body language: how their heads are positioned next to one another, how their trunks are sitting, the way they are holding their shoulders. 

If you call them out in moments where they are quietly challenging one another, you can almost see them doing the elephant version of, “Nothing is going on here, no sir…” It can be amusing to watch from afar, though you might not notice anything happening if you weren’t familiar with their behaviors. We don’t always know what causes the changes in how they relate to each other. Perhaps it is something that Mara is doing. Or, because Bambi is particularly protective of Mara, if Mara is not feeling well, Bambi may be feeling a bit insecure. 

These evolving dynamics impact not just their relationships with each other, but also how our care team responds to them. If we notice a slight shift in mood between Bambi and Rana, we adjust where we put their food and how much separation we place between the two of them during dinner, to ensure that Mara gets her meal without interruptions. If we are not paying attention, negative behaviors can be encouraged without someone realizing it. As is often the case, subtleties are the key. Keeping an eye out for slight behavioral changes helps us adjust their care and ensure everyone is getting the best out of sanctuary. 

Photo of Rana


  1. REPLY
    Susan Flewelling says

    If they actually got into a physical confrontation, how on earth would you break it up? Or could you?

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      As with most things, it depends on the elephant, where you are, who you are with, and a number of other factors. The best way to deal with a fight is to do whatever you can to deal with the behaviors you are seeing before it happens. That means watching and reacting quickly. Elephants react to sounds of food buckets being hit or gates being opened because those both represent positive things to them and might distract them. You can use a whistle or high-pitched noise maker or even spray them with a hose, particularly if an elephant likes water. Asian elephants rarely get to the point where there they actually fight. African elephants can be more aggressive. Watching Bambi and Rana interact is all part of the process of preventing a physical confrontation.

  2. REPLY
    Beji says

    This is so cool. Your narrative is so detailed that you almost feel like you’re there with them. I wish…..

  3. REPLY
    Barb says

    This reminds me of my children when they were little. I often heard them say to others, “you’re not the boss of me “ :o)

  4. REPLY
    John says


  5. REPLY
    Katie Howard says

    The nuances of elephant behavior are fascinating! I am so thankful that your team is so intricately involved with the elephants’ behavior and interactions. It’s reassuring because I trust that very little goes unnoticed. It’s true animal husbandry. So…thank you.

  6. REPLY
    Lori Hoover says

    I am LOLOLOLing at Rana and her ‘yeah, sure, Bambi, you’re in charge’ thought bubble. Rana is the sweetest thing, but you can’t blame her for this thought process. Plus, Bambi has brought her and Mara a lot of fun. It is great to see Maia giving a relationship with Rana more of a chance, too. I adore them all, Lady, too. I can imagine Lady watching all of them………and her thought bubbles on the trio as well.

  7. REPLY
    Anita Janusz-Wong says

    Thinking of what I read about the girls history your observations are really very interesting. They were mostly alone and very lonely for years. Even Maia who was with Guida was kept way away so there was not even touching for them available for years. To see them socialising now if they want to and forming relationships is amazing. So much freedom, so many choices. Even if they are pottering around alone and just smelling the flowers, must be very healing to their souls. I truly love your sanctuary. So rich in greenery. Peace and quiet. Anyone and any creature would heal in this place. You have chosen very well..:-)

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Thank you. Freedom and choice make so much difference in their lives.

  8. REPLY
    Charlotte Hansen says

    This is fascinating! I’m so glad you include us in these kinds of insights.

  9. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman-Eaton says

    Bambi being her eager and needy self just makes me smile, thinking of all the changes she has brought about. I find myself smiling all through these detailed messages. SOOOO interesting and informative.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Thank you so much! We don’t think of Bambi as being needy, so much as excited about having a friend. She is learning more all of the time about how to be a better friend as she eases into sanctuary life. But we never want her to lose her charming Bambi energy!

  10. REPLY
    Patricia Bamford says

    It never ceases to amaze me how you observe the actions and activities of these wonderful animals and are able to “read” them so well. Your experience over the years shared with us is so appreciated and I love every post, the parties, the silly antics, the ramblings and wandering through paradise of these gorgeous girls is a constant source of joy especially in these hard times of Covid19 and the stresses we are all living in.
    Thank you so much Scott, Kat and all your team.❤️🐘🐘🐘🐘🐘

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