Elephants Connection to the Land


People frequently ask how the elephants know to eat off the land and provide for themselves.

We have been asked this by zoo officials, zookeepers, and laypeople alike. They worry that after not seeing or experiencing grass, vines, or trees up close for decades, the elephants literally won’t know what to do with them.

No matter how many years we work with elephants, they continually remind us (often humorously) to never underestimate them. They repeatedly impress us with their clever ingenuity, resourcefulness, and connection.

When Ramba first arrived at the enclosure in the Chilean Safari Park after years with the circus, living on a cement slab, she completely ignored the fresh fruit scattered around for her and starting picking grass to eat. When new elephants first arrive, even before they leave the crate, they frequently try to reach through the transport container’s side doors and start grabbing grass or vines as soon as they see it. Irrelevant to what their life has been, and how long since they’ve experienced nature, they never lose that connection with the natural world.


The shifts in behavior we witness during season changes are another example of their connection to land and nature.

As we transition from the wet season to the dry season, different vines & plants begin to grow. Trees are in different growth stages than they were a few weeks ago, and the elephants adjust where they spend their time. It isn’t related to shade as there is both shade and sun available almost everywhere they go. It isn’t related to water as it’s still raining, albeit less, the creeks are at their fullest, and there are water troughs throughout the habitat. The only thing that has shifted is the season, and where the elephants spend the bulk of their time.

We don’t see what they see and understand. We can’t tell you why Rana prefers the pasture she is at right now – it looks the same to us. What we can tell you is that after months of not caring about that pasture or that grass, it’s suddenly Rana’s favorite place to be and graze. We don’t know why, but there is a change that she is aware of that we are not.


As humans, we don’t have the level of connection with the land that the elephants do.

It doesn’t matter that Rana was a circus elephant for 40 years, she just knows. She hasn’t had access to this property or its natural varieties of grass for decades. She simply has an innate connection with nature and with her surroundings – one that few people have and most can never truly understand.

They seem to know what to eat and when to eat it. It demonstrates that with all of the ‘elephant’ that has been stripped of them after decades of sterile captive lives, the core of who they are remains beautifully intact.

April 13, 2020


  1. REPLY
    Carol says

    I love them so…

  2. REPLY
    Jean says

    So beautifully stated? elephants are truly miraculous .

  3. REPLY
    Jean Tryon says

    Well said. This brings up my question: Cows eat grass, have 4 stomachs, chew their cud. Behold the elephant: how many stomachs? Cud chewers? I suspect one, and ‘No’. [I think it’s the same answer for horses, too.]

    • REPLY
      EleComposer says

      Just one stomach and no cud-chewing. Elephants are not ruminants – their GI is much closer to a horse than a cow.

  4. REPLY
    Nishant Bhajaria says

    So beautiful! If only we humans respected the land like these elephants do

  5. REPLY
    June Ross says

    Wonderful comments. They gave me goosebumps!

  6. REPLY
    Lila says

    This is one of the best posts I’ve read from you guys. One of the most interesting, humbling, touching, beautiful, profound, incredible. I love it. And, of course, I love love Rana…

  7. REPLY
    Carol says

    Such a hopeful message- sharing how the elephants can demonstrate the amazing innate strength of instinct that helps them heal from a life of trauma away from nature. We need this message of hope for humanity. Hope that our God given natural instincts can surface to help us. Thank you for sharing this special insight.

  8. REPLY
    Kelejan says

    I think they instinctively know that any newly grown grass packs more nutrients than older plants. That is why most animals are born in the spring so that they can survive. That is why if you grow vegetables for yourself, it is better to eat when they are small. Big is not always better in the vegetable world.

  9. REPLY
    Rosie P says

    This was very interesting as well as thought provoking………it also caused me to have butterflies! The basic instinct remains even though so much had been stolen from them over the decades before sanctuary. It is almost as though forgiveness at some level has occurred as their true nature is allowed to florish, instantly, it seems, in some cases. I know that many of the bile bears of China and Vietnam and other Asian countries show great forgiveness to their sanctuary carers even though they have been treated in the most barbaric way by humans and are so traumatised before rescue. They somehow get on with it.We could learn so much from the animal kingdom.

  10. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman Eaton says

    I look forward to the updates, the girls progress, and marvel at GSE’s understanding and observations of these beautiful beings. I learn new information in every post, and look forward to each one. Thank you.

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