As we’ve mentioned, we’re working on training with Guillermina so that she can learn some new behaviors for foot care and refine some of her other behaviors like “lean ins,” which were limited because there wasn’t a full training wall to work with them in Mendoza. In addition to acquiring the skills she’ll need for footwork and other treatments, the sessions are important because they help build relationships between caregiver and elephant.
Due to their pasts and, more specifically, due to the vast voids of captivity, all elephants arrive at the sanctuary with some level of trauma. All evolve and grow through their discovery of life and the liberties of autonomy which allow them to find their space to heal. Guille’s journey is interesting. She is spirited and playful, often silly, and seems like a 12-year old living in a 24-year old’s body. Her journey has been made all the more difficult with the passing of her mom, which she is navigating through with remarkable grace.
Training, which is all through protected contact and positive reinforcement, is a necessary part of our ability to provide the highest degree of veterinary care, but it is also a time where we connect to the elephants on a little different level. Needless to say, we don’t speak the same language, we are trying to read them, and they are trying to understand what it is that we are asking of them. Guille is incredibly smart and uniquely attentive to the finest of details that mean the difference between a small reward and the jackpot. She is gentle and deeply present during training sessions. But, there is a disconnect with her, a veil that still hides her emotions. This has always been there, but when her mother Pocha was alive, Guille would occasionally let us see more of her inner spirit. As other members of the care team watch the training sessions, they see her cooperation and attentiveness. We are looking for the small openings in her veil, little moments when she lets the guard down. So she does not become overwhelmed, we don’t celebrate these moments in the same way we would a correct behavior. Instead, we simply use words to let her know that we see that she is trying.
We are all vulnerable. Most of us don’t like feeling vulnerable, but when we allow ourselves to reside within that space, even if just for a few moments, this is when we truly start to reveal who we are and connect to the world around us. Guille has a wall around her vulnerable self and, although she has reinforced this with the passing of Pocha, it is something she has carried for years. We often say that the most important part of sanctuary is not the people – which is true – it is the space, the autonomy, respect, and other elephants. But we can be facilitators to help with their journey. With Guille, at this point in her journey, training is serving to help her to build trust. It’s meant to help her know that we are listening, that we understand, and that she is seen, not just as an elephant, but as a remarkable spirit yet to fully discover her inner beauty.
Photo of Guillermina