National Geographic (Brazil): Rana’s Rescue

National Geographic

We are sharing the Brazilian National Geographic piece that was written on Rana’s rescue. Many people had asked about it, so here it is. We’ll put a rough translation below.

But for those who don’t want to read, if you click on the photos in the link above, it will bring you to a photo gallery that has many lovely photos of the trip. The headings under the photos are a nice synopsis as well, but again in Portuguese. Although if anyone is interested, you can always copy and paste the text into google translate.  Make sure to select Portuguese as the original language.


January 12, 2019


The elephant, who lived in Sergipe, is the third to be adopted by the first elephant sanctuary in Brazil, in Mato Grosso.

On the eve of Christmas, the telephone rings at the Federal Highway Police (PRF) in Aracajú (SE). Inspector Nizandro Ramos attends; on the other end of the line the boss says, “We have a big problem to solve!”. Nizandro thought it was some charge to be intercepted, but what the chief said was that there was an elephant to be escorted. “I laughed! It sounded like a joke. I only took it seriously when they gave me the address of Fazenda Boa Luz, “remembers the inspector. The PRF escort was the detail that was missing so that the elephant Rana could finally begin his last trip.

Rana was about to cut the country from the northeast to the center-west – 2,700 km between the farm Boa Luz, in the outskirts of Aracaju, to the Brazilian Elephant Sanctuary (SEB) in Mato Grosso. A journey that began long before December 18, when the container with her inside was placed on top of the truck and she effectively took the road.

Of Asian origin, Rana is “a very quiet girl,” as described by North American Scott Blais, an elephant expert and CEO of SEB. It is estimated that she is between 50 and 60 years old, however, no documentation indicates her age reliably. Some reports claim that the exploration of Rana’s life would have begun in the United States when she was part of the election campaign of Ike Eisenhower and Richard Nixon in 1952. Apparently she brought luck because Ike was elected.

After being a republican electoral captain, Rana arrived in Brazil in 1967 with the Gran Bartolo circus in Recife. From there, his life was traveling from troupe to troupe: worked in circuses Moscow, Garcia, Tihany, Estoril and Beto Carrero. In fact, the “sardines” in Rana’s trunk, a mark of common depigmentation in Asians, provoked a memory; would I have seen this elephant during my own childhood?
Impossible to be sure, but great is the chance, after all, were times when seeing animals in circus was not only normal but also licit. The circus career only came to an end when the use of animals as entertainment began to be banned by state laws – 11 states have passed laws on them, but the bill that would remove circus animals from all over Brazil has not yet been voted on. With that, Rana was donated to a zoo in São Paulo, where she would also have been ill-treated.

It is possible that she was transferred to the Boa Luz farm in 2006, a place whose former owner sold after suffering a process of mistreatment of animals. The new owners, who bought the farm in 2015, decided to deactivate the mini-zoo and the elephant had to be moved.

Though quiet, Rana did not seem to be entirely comfortable with our presence when we got to her house. Every so often she threw a piece of sugar cane, the basis of her northeastern food, toward us. It was the warning that he wanted distance. “This is a common behavior among circus animals, they end up gaining attention or food when they throw things in. We have to demonstrate that we have respect for their space and keep distance,” says Scott.

After years at the Boa Luz farm, it was as if Rana had already become accustomed to the solitude of that space of 1 thousand square meters they gave her. A piece of earth insulated by a fine electrified wire and no tree to lean against. Elephants are social animals, they walk in flocks, herbivores, walk and eat at least 20 hours a day, a little bit at a time. Rana, by contrast, stood all day in the small shadow of a round roof. He ate when the traitor John brought fruits, vegetables and sugar cane. The only visit she got was from the little hotel train that passed once or twice a day with tourists coming down, self-eyed, watching for a few minutes and leaving.

Rana’s discomfort was understandable, after all, for an elephant who got used to being alone, our arrival was not inconspicuous. Early on, a crane and a truck with a container parked beside him. The goal was to hoist and place the container strategically so that it could come and go at ease during the days of adaptation. After this war operation, the moment was waiting; it might be hours, or perhaps days, until Rana would decide, of her own volition, to finally enter.

We shielded ourselves from the strong sun inside the cars, and it was at one of those distracting moments that Rana began to address the container. She was quick – the container had arrived only two hours ago. “Good girl, good girl,” said Scott. Gradually the elephant exploded with the tip of the trunk and found a new shade where to shelter.

From this, every time Rana entered the container she received positive stimuli like apples, carrots, beets, melons and, mainly, watermelons. The favorite dish? Anything provided accompanied with peanut butter. He would smear his trunk and the container of enthusiasm. Scott also gave him flowers and essential oils, something that with a few drops can make a difference for an elephant-sensitive animal, he says. One of the compounds promised to facilitate transition phases.

The connection between Rana and the team grew rapidly. On the first day, just after sunset, we got in the car to leave and Rana walked to the far corner of the fence that separated us. He looked at us and stretched his trunk, testing to see if the electric fence was on. He seemed to want to come with us. We got out of the car, and Scott explained to her in a soft voice that we would be back. Rana walked back into the container and we left. It was as if he had already understood and accepted his new destiny.

From the second day on, it was necessary to test how the elephant would react when the container was completely sealed for the trip. “I’m going to close the gate, okay?” Scott warned Rana of his movements and waited for his approval look before locking everything completely. They were 5 to 10 minute tests performed several times a day. “The first time she shivered a little,” he says. To avoid another farewell, Scott decided not to leave and spend the night monitoring her behavior.

On the fourth and last day of adaptation, Simone Hiromoto farm, veterinarian and public employee who works voluntarily for the SEB arrived. Simone brought the Animal Transport Guide (GTA) and the Animal Transport License, two documents without which Rana could not leave, issued in the last hour. “We bumped into a lot of bureaucracy and people do not even know how to handle it, after all, nobody ever took an elephant to a sanctuary in Brazil. Often, we ourselves have to learn by doing,” he explains. Simone and Daniel Moura, veterinarian and director of the SEB, made more than one hundred calls before obtaining authorization for the trip.

The intense and difficult process had begun four months earlier and had a happy coincidence. At the same time as the SEB team planned a public civil action requesting Rana to go to the shrine, her vet, Genisson Resendes, was determined to find a better place for the elephant to live. “I found the sanctuary in a search on the internet, I sent an email so happy and excited that I can not even remember what I wrote,” he recounts.

The crane began hoisting the container with Rana at 10:30 p.m. on December 18, 2018. As soon as he left the ground he swung and Rana became agitated. Despite the whole period of adaptation, this movement was new to her. The container returned to the floor, Scott hung on it and started talking to Rana. “Good girl, good girl, we’re going to a better place, where Maia and Guida are already,” he explained. From that moment, she calmed down and the hoisting followed.

We filled the gallons with water for Rana and we left to cross Bahia, Goiás and Mato Grosso. The trip went through the three Brazilian plateaus – Diamantina, the Veadeiros and finished in the Guimarães. We drove until dawn, stopping only to eat and refuel when needed. At each post, the wide-eyed and curious look of one who had the good fortune to cross with the caravan. Some came running, cell phone in hand: “I came to see the elephant!”. Rana also seemed curious, stretching her trunk, wanting to smell everything and everyone.

At dawn, Rana moved inside the container, leaning her body now to one side, now to the other, her tail always swaying. The truck suffered on the heights, walking at a measly 20 km / h. Perhaps he had never carried such a burden, let alone one that moved. Rana weighs about 3.5 tons. The biggest obstacles on the road were in the early morning hours, with carts that frighteningly invaded the space between us and Rana in a mandatory zig-zag, invading the counter to avoid holes and craters in the asphalt.

We spend time telling curious stories. Scott remembered special elephants he had taken care of while working in a shrine in Tennessee. “Once an elephant ran away, she stopped at the window of a house, the resident watched a movie and offered her popcorn, and when I arrived, the police and the elephant were very calm, I thought I’d have problems, all the inhabitants of the city wanted an elephant to visit, “he said. According to him, this same elephant, Barbara, sent messages through an animal communicator.

So the trip followed, with stories of elephants, the scare of a dead animal on the road, and a flat tire of the truck that was changed in the passage through Brasilia. Rana should already be exhausted when, after riding for 78 hours and 46 minutes, we turn on the dirt road that gives access to the Sanctuary in the rural area of Rio de Casca (MT), 110 km from the capital Cuiabá. The team’s emotion was evident, but it was soon replaced by tension. The hoisting cranes had not yet arrived. It was necessary to think quickly about a plan B, to obtain another crane in the middle of Christmas Eve would be practically impossible.

Immediately, still inside the container, Rana received native plants. He looked at everything and put his trunk on the rail at all times. The relief of the team came along with the rain and the arrival of the cranes – two hours late. The ground became mud and the truck jammed, but nothing a tractor would not solve. In the midst of the press, the rain, and the machine lag, Scott opened the gate, but forgot to open the roof of the container. Before we could do anything, Rana gave her way: she folded her paws, and tenderly entered her new home.

She came out and smelled everything, buried her paws in a pile of earth prepared for her, threw earth on her body, swept, and made a point of expelling the cock George, curious to meet her. Rana spent the night still in adaptation in the corral, after all, it was necessary to study their reactions. The next morning was the time to meet the two elephants, Maia and Guida, who have been living in the sanctuary for a year. In the first contact, Guida was immensely receptive, while Maia made some gestures with the trunk, like someone who wants to demonstrate her authority to the rookie.

After a few hours, the three giants were released to walk the SEB’s 1100-hectare area. Rana was not intimidated. Maia and Guida headed for the lake and she went behind, surprising everyone. “She went there and did not go in, but it’s a sign that she will adapt easily,” says Scott. This was the moment to lose Rana in the green of the Sanctuary, a very different scenario from the one I met the week before and even more different from what she spent her life working.

Transportation required four months of effort, 2,700 km, and a cost of $ 25,000 to deliver Rana to a place resembling the landscape from which she should never have left. The Elephants Sanctuary Brazil is the first experience of its kind in all of Latin America. It was conceived in 2013 once just a hope of Brazilian Junia Machado after a visit to the zoo of São Paulo when she saw the situation of the elephant who lived there. Teresita, as she was called, passed away this week while we edited this story. The time was not enough for both her and Pelusa, another elephant who lived in the zoo of La Plata, Argentina and died last year. Currently, about 10 elephants, from several countries, are in this same situation, waiting for a chance to be received by the local.

Amid this debate involving zoos, circuses and government institutions on the use of animals for entertainment, the SEB team states that there is no way to estimate exactly how many elephants are exported or sold in the world due to the illegal market. However, just to cite an example, in January 2018, according to the NGO Conservantion Action Trust, China imported, in one go, about 30 elephants from Africa. Therefore, if we consider only this data, the day that Rana arrived at the Sanctuary, we have already lost by 29.


  1. REPLY
    Kelejan says

    Rana is one of the lucky ones. So many more need sanctuary and will never make it but we will celebrate the ones that are saved.

  2. REPLY
    Julie Laemmerhirt says

    Boy, I hope this article catches the eyes of the public and officials and sets a fire under them!!! I’m glad I’m familiar with all the goings-on of the journey, though, since there were some things lost in translation ? Thank you for sharing the article with us!! Don’t suppose there will be one written up for the US market??

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