Do Elephants Prefer One Caregiver Over Another?

We get a number of questions about whether caregivers have “favorite” elephants (which Scott and Kat talked about in the AMA video) or if elephants have people they prefer over others. Truthfully, the answer is: yes and no. 

Due to an elephant’s past, he or she may positively respond to people in general more quickly than others. Additionally, they might behave differently with one specific caregiver, particularly in the early days of their training at sanctuary. An elephant may resonate with a particular individual because of the amount of time they spend with that person. For instance, Kat has done a significant amount of care with Lady, so Lady tends to be more open with Kat than other caregivers. As Lady has become more comfortable at sanctuary, she has begun to open up to other people, but that is an ongoing process. 

Some elephants might be emotionally drawn to a specific person when they are sick because they associate that individual with feeling better. Other elephants can be one-person elephants, though that isn’t the case here. Sometimes, an elephant might connect with a particular individual on a personality level. In Rana’s case, she works well with all caregivers, but clearly has an affinity for Scott. Her temperament changes around him, but he doesn’t necessarily treat her any differently than he does the other elephants. As far as the rest of the ladies here, they don’t necessarily prefer one person over another. 

It’s true that elephants can respond differently to different people, which is only natural. They seem to know who has more experience working with elephants and who doesn’t yet have the depth of understanding. But on a larger level, as they heal emotionally, they tend to open up to those who show them consideration and a willingness to listen. Yes, each elephant has specific nuances that must be learned but, as a general rule, they know very quickly which people acknowledge that they are a unique being. 

How one talks to an elephant, responds to their behaviors, and simply shows respect for what they have gone through makes a significant difference in how an elephant reacts to a person, or to people in general. While respect and caring may sound simple, it’s deeper than that, and Rana is a great example. It’s easy to get lost in how beautiful and cute she is, but if you view her primarily through that lens, she won’t respect you. Likewise, she will not respond well to you if you see her as this “wonderful and good” girl – which she is, but she’s also more than that. As with everything in life, there is a definite balance that must be found. 

There will always be some elephants that develop comfort with one person more quickly than others. But here at ESB, though elephants like Lady and Rana may show a preference, they work with all caregivers, and the rest of the elephants appear to have an equal respect for both Scott and Kat, and a growing respect for the others who care for them. 

Photo of Kat and Maia


  1. REPLY
    John says

    Interesting comments about Rana. Such complicated and complex creatures.

  2. REPLY
    Bill says

    Elephants seem to pay more attention to actions and attitudes than us prejudiced humans. Their behavior reminds us that they are individuals.

  3. REPLY
    Katie Howard says

    I have wondered if elephants in your care show a preference for male or female caregivers. However, reading this post makes that question obviously over-simplistic. I guess my thinking was along the lines that most “mahouts” and circus “are trainers” are likely to be male so I wondered if the girls would be more responsive to female caregivers – or take longer to establish trust with a male caregiver. But I guess they’re smarter than that (which I should have realized), and respond more to a person’s energy and respect, rather than a judgement based on gender.
    Such wonderful animules!

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      In general, a lot of elephants seem to gravitate more towards men. There are theories that even though their pasts may have been abusive, there is still a familiarity and comfort with men that they don’t have with women. Even in the US, the zoo world, in regards to elephants, was very male-dominated – it was an ego job, being able to ‘make’ a large animal do what you tell them to. That has changed over the past decade with facilities shift toward positive reinforcement training and away from dominance training. But it’s still individual. And you do get some elephants, like Lady, who seem to prefer women due to her harsh past with men. The bias is fairly clear since it’s not just people who work with her, but even voices from a distance.

  4. REPLY
    Kenneth B. Newman says

    Do female elephants prefer female caregivers, , or do male elephants prefer male caregivers, has this been studied at all? Or do some elephants just bond with certain people, regardless of their sex?

    On the other hand, do zookeepers/ caregivers/ circus elephant trainers have a MUCH BIGGER problem with African elephants, due to their size, or being MORE wild? or are those who work with African elephants, including in African countries, understand them much better??????

    I would be very curious if and when those African elephants come to GSE, will the training for NEW caregivers be much different????

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Circuses tend not to work with African elephants because they are reactionary animals. In our experience with African elephants, once they seem to understand the concepts involved in training, they potentially pick things up more quickly than Asian elephants might. You need to adjust your training techniques based on a different personality. As far as caregivers, there will be a learning curve, just like anything else. Asian and African elephants communicate differently, so there will be slight adjustments – mostly based on personalities – but most of the fundamental techniques will remain the same.

  5. REPLY
    Katie Howard says

    That’s fascinating…and makes me really sad for Lady. (Shhhh! She’s the one who most tugs my heart strings!).
    I’m glad you and she have such wonderful bond ❤️🐘❤️

  6. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman-Eaton says

    I am amazed an elephant that has been tortured and neglected their entire life by humans, can trust ANY human. It shows the incredible intelligence and forgiving nature an elephant has. It also reflects the wonderful love, expertise and guidance from Scott an Kat, and their chosen staff. Their communication and transparency while caring for these precious elephants is truly outstanding.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      It’s true that they are amazing and wondrous and generous beings. It’s our honor to offer them the best lives possible.

Post a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.