Talking about land may not be as exciting as talking about elephants, but we’re not talking about an ordinary property, this is their forever home- where elephants lucky enough to find sanctuary will peacefully live out the rest of their days.
Since elephants need to exercise their minds just as much as their bodies, the land we choose has to be both mentally and physically stimulating, challenging yet attractive and intriguing. The ability to wander and choose where to go stimulates their brain, but there is so much more. Each leaf on a tree, changes in topography, different textures in the ground or the scent from a wild animal are extremely stimulating for a being that is so tactile and conscious of their surroundings. We have literally seen elephants stop following someone that was delivering their food because a butterfly danced by or because they caught a whiff of a sweet smelling flower that just recently bloomed. These things we give little thought to are an amazing gift to such a complex being who has spent most of their life in a sterile square of land. Just like everything at sanctuary, even the property is about nurturing their entire being.
We have mentioned in our blogs that a very generous local man has donated 3000 acres for the development of Elephant Sanctuary Brazil. There is however an issue as the land is not fully registered. To explain further, many people that have settled here in this region, that is just 30 years old, have traded or sold lands and never gone through the process of formally registering their property. This is not an issue for many and we’ve learned it is quite common in various parts of Brazil as a means to avoid taxes. But for someone wanting to develop and build, especially with the profile of an elephant sanctuary, it’s a problem. Initially we said, no big deal, we’ll just get it registered, a logical and reasonable approach. The big shock came when we found out that it is a process that can take up to 3-4 years, and that was the expedited schedule.
For many elephants, waiting 3 years is simply out of the question, their situations just don’t allow them time to spare. So, we started to search for smaller properties, spacious yet affordable, that also offer the ability to expand. It takes time to build elephant fences; so expanding as we go along is not only financially responsible but also works well with construction schedules. The end result is likely that we’ll have two different properties that ultimately provide the elephants with more space. One option is for one property to be used for Asian elephants, while the other property can be used for African elephants. With wanting to house both males and females of each species, and wanting to allow them both substantial spaces to roam, this additional property and change in direction could end up being a blessing in disguise. It definitely means more work, but work that will go a long way in improving the welfare of elephants throughout South America, and possibly further. Most importantly, this second property means opening our doors sooner.
Needing a new property meant having to start an expeditious land search all over again, while making sure to be diligent and thorough at the same time. The first issue we ran up against was the lack of properties that are registered so we can build immediately. They are definitely a rarity. Even some that initially appeared to be in order weren’t as legally together as we had been lead to believe. The second issue was finding a property that was not just a piece of land, but was the right space for sanctuary.
Certain properties you walk onto and can immediately visualize elephants living there, it just happens. Others may need some work, but with a little love, you can see how the land would grow to be amazing. We have to look at what can be fixed versus what can’t be fixed. We can cultivate and nurture pasture, we can plant trees to re-establish deforested areas, but we can’t create beautiful clean water where it doesn’t exist, nor can we move mountains. The land not only has to work for healthy elephants, but you also have to take into consideration older ailing elephants that may not be able to walk the same distances or climb the same inclines. Decades of living in small yards on compact surfaces has a huge impact on an elephant’s body, and although the freedoms of sanctuary can reverse or deplete many of those issues, it takes time.
Another issue is that bigger does not always mean better, and while yes, we are huge advocates that more space promotes greater healing, the space has to be useable. There were several larger properties that we visited where a portion of the land would be essentially unusable because the steepness of the hills or the volume of enormous rocks and boulders that grossly restrict where fences could be erected. We visited properties that were only worth half of their size when it came to what the elephants would reasonably explore. We jokingly thought about starting a mountain goat sanctuary or a primate sanctuary, and although incredible, some of the properties just won’t work for elephants.
We have travelled many hours on winding dirt roads (thank goodness for Dramamine), hiked numerous hours, picked grasses and lovely fruits (some looked more lovely than they tasted,) examined dirt and water sources, sought out shade from old growth trees, marveled at beautiful macaws flying overhead and shocked many land owners when they discover that us looking at a property means a 3 hour hike for everyone and usually a lot of questions. The properties that are good are stunning; much of this area of Brazil is literally a page out of a nature magazine. There is something that feels so right about having elephants in this picturesque area that they would share with wild monkeys, gorgeous birds that you would only normally see in cages, and a few other odd creatures as well.
With all that we have explored, there is one property that has stood out among the rest. We would love to say that we’ll update you soon, but we’ve had other options that have fallen through just moments before we were ready to make an announcement, so you’ll have to wait just a little longer. Even with all of the struggles, the headaches, and occasional confusion, there is no denying that this part of Brazil not only feels right, but it’s starting to feel like a home, an incredible forever home for elephants lucky enough to find Sanctuary.