After the show of great support this past week, we wanted to talk a little bit about why we are trying to create a sanctuary in Brazil. The basics are simple, there isn’t a healthy alternative for elephants in all of South America, but it’s much more than that.
When Scott mentioned the possibility of starting another elephant sanctuary, the only other guy in the US who has also built one chuckled and asked if he was crazy. A few of his friends said “There’s life after one sanctuary but is there life after two?” Sanctuary is a full commitment; it takes everything you have, mentally, physically and emotionally.
Scott co-founded the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee when he was 21 years old. At an age where you feel unstoppable and that anything is possible. He dedicated over 15 years of his life to growing the facility into what it is today and personally caring for every single elephant that was driven through the front gates. You can’t imagine the emotional rewards that come from watching 24 amazing elephants discover who they are, work through a lifetime of struggles, form bonds that epitomize unconditional love and return to a much more natural state of being. The flip side of that is, it is hard to fathom the struggles and worry that come with being responsible not only for those same elephants’ well-being, but also the welfare of those who directly care for those beings every day. There are tremendous highs and lows through every amazing step of the journey.
It is a completely consuming 24/7 job. There is no way to do it half way and still do it well. You miss birthdays, weddings and sometimes even funerals. When an elephant needs you, all plans go out the window, there is no question or doubt it’s just how it is. So why decide to go through all of this, all over again, from the very beginning? Rebuilding a following, renewing the reputation and finding the support to make functioning and rescuing elephants in need even possible? Simple, because elephants need it!
The elephants teach you lessons throughout their journeys, if you are open to them, and if they find you worthy. It may sound silly, but they don’t truly open up to just anyone. They save that part of themselves for a special few, some elephants for just one special someone. When they need to be heard, they make sure their message is loud and clear. Barbara, although petite and waifish, let it be known that, despite her outward appearance, she was strong and amazing and that there was a much bigger picture to what was going on, at the beginning of sanctuary development in TN. Shirley, Jenny and Bunny made it quite clear that although 220 acres was ridiculously bigger than any space they ever had, that it wasn’t enough, and they wanted more. Jenny and Shirley showed staff, and the world, the true depth of the relationship between two elephants and what “family” really meant to them. Tina showed that sometimes the damage caused by captivity is just too much for even sanctuary to fix. Sissy and Winkie showed that sometimes the most “damaged” beings can be there for each other and turn out to be the most amazing. Delhi clearly showed that when you ask for something (and if it’s for the right reasons) you will be given the world, but if you demand it, you will get nothing in return. She also showed that even a grandma, who had been physically written off by some people, was still full of spunk and play. Flora taught one of the hardest lessons of all, that sometimes less is more and that taking responsibility for your actions and taking control of your own life is one of the most liberating things anyone will every experience.
The lessons went on and on throughout the years. If you kept your heart open, the girls (and one heartbreaking boy) continued to teach and share themselves fully with you, showing you the things that really mattered when it came to what defines an elephant. Being let into their lives that way is nothing short of a privilege. And while all of these lessons are amazing, it seemed almost like a betrayal to them to keep these lessons only in memory and not use them to help other elephants along that same road of recovery.
Sanctuary is phenomenal, but it’s more than just space. It’s about sitting back and seeing every elephant as an individual, and honoring who they are. Knowing when to let them struggle a bit (even when you want to help) and when to give them the little push needed for a breakthrough. What elephants get from other elephants is something a human could never replace, but they do need our devotion, support, and understanding along the way.
So in honor of all of the elephants that have passed through our lives, those before sanctuary who led the way to understanding that captive elephants were so much more than the world acknowledged at that time, the big playful boys, the insecure, the demonstrative, the sweet and the wise, and those at sanctuary who taught us why elephants needed all that sanctuary offered in order to thrive, we all embark upon starting another sanctuary. After all, sometimes it feels like it is the least we can do.
We can’t imagine anything that honors them more than using the lessons they made sure we learned, the gifts and infinite blessings, to help other elephants who are just as deserving as they were. There are many other elephants that also have stories to tell and journeys to share; we just have to give them the chance to do so. Thank you for helping us to pay it forward. If you would like to help elephants in South America get that chance, check out our Giving Ground to Elephants campaign.