From Scott: The Glory of Being An Animal Caregiver

Before we go too far, know that this life is exceptional. To be a part of the lives of elephants is incomparable. Sometimes, it feels like we are living in a dreamscape as the sun rises above the hills to illuminate the valley of elephants. It is incredible, and it is a life that we don’t take for granted.

Many people tell us that they wish they had our jobs, which can occasionally be met with a bit of a cynical chuckle. They will say that they can handle the work and yes, there is a lot of hard, physical work – in the rain, sun, scorching temperatures, inches of mud, and surrounded by insects, insects, and more insects (including the million wasps nests that appear seemingly from nowhere as you are cutting palms for the elephants). In my opinion, that is actually the easy part. When caring for others, food, cleaning, and compassion are important, but the core component is about understanding and listening. And, when working with animals with high intelligence and emotional complexities, there is rarely a path that is straightforward and “right.”

Through each day, there are a lot of ways to be wrong. Rarely do we finish with elephant care and think that it went perfectly. And, we are okay with this; it’s through these imperfections that we continue to grow. When you think there is nothing more for you to learn, it’s time for you to walk away. The challenge for most humans is being okay with not being 100% right. That can be extraordinarily difficult for people, especially for new caregivers. Sometimes, the more critical (and infinitely more difficult) element is learning how to listen to the elephants. Even if we could have done better, when the elephants see that you are listening and trying to understand, they know that you are ready to be their student. This is not to suggest that they think they know more or are better than us, which the latter is undoubtedly true, but it is the same with all healthy relationships: we are learning from our friends and partners, what they need from us and what we can do to be more of what they need.

Communication is difficult within any species, and it is extraordinarily difficult with interspecies relationships. Add the element of 5 decades of isolation and trauma, and this often-intangible concept of listening becomes infinitely more convoluted, nuanced, and individual. On the road to recovery, what an individual needs today is frequently different than what they will need the next day, or even in 10 minutes. For us, this means that what is the right action today may be the wrong action for tomorrow. Ultimately, we need to know that our role is to facilitate recovery by helping the elephants feel safe to express themselves.  But, what if we take a wrong step; a moment of not listening, or not being present, or an analysis that missed critical elements they were trying to share with us? And, due to the trauma they’ve endured, some elephants have learned to not be honest with their communications. How do we know what they are sharing is what they really feel?

As a new elephant caregiver, these feelings and questions can be overwhelming. When we feel insecure, we will often overcompensate with a false sense of confidence. We tell ourselves that “we have this,” or we just give them everything that we think that they might want: more food, more love, more anything that we can. But these reactions are also not honest; they are masking our own insecurities. What we feel, based on our journeys with elephants, is that we must be honest and, more importantly, vulnerable. This means finding and learning who you are as an individual, as a caregiver, as a partner, and as a human. We believe that before you can understand another, you must first understand yourself. And just like our experiences with the elephants, it is ok to be wrong about who you thought you were, and it is okay to change. It’s sometimes scary, but it is also humbling and empowering.

The intertwined elements of what make sanctuary impactful are still being unveiled, and we are still learning and we are still growing. One element that we know with certainty, and I think that we can all resonate with, is that when you feel like someone is listening, you feel safe to open your heart and to be vulnerable. And we know that vulnerability is honesty, and with honesty lies trust – and with trust, we are creating free spaces for the elephants to be who they are. 

This life is magical, and it is a gift to be a part of, but it’s not easy. Personal growth and finding humility are what most caregivers find the most difficult. It is complicated to be okay with being wrong while, at the same time, knowing that being wrong can cause a traumatized individual to take a step backward and close their door of self-expression. This responsibility, in combination with our personal growth, and the multitude of tangibles such as financial, safety, security, make this life extraordinarily difficult and, at the same time, incomparable.

Rana and Mara enjoying some green grass


  1. REPLY
    Deb says

    I could not read this fast enough! And then I had to read it again.
    There is truly nobody better for this job than you & Kat!
    You are very inspiring.

  2. REPLY
    Melinda says

    What a wonderful post! While reading this I wondered if, due to the decades of horrible abuse these elephants have endured, recovered victims of human trafficking might be good volunteers to help the eles. Humans having gone through similar, although obviously different, traumas could have a unique ability to empathize. It’s tricky, but maybe (?) a possibility. If I were younger I would be right there with you heroes!

  3. REPLY
    Margaret Gebhard says

    Thank you. Beautiful and meaningful.

  4. REPLY
    Carol says

    You, Kat and the gang should write a book…do a documentary or something. Your abilities to express your thoughts and to describe the details and subtleties of caretaking, are exquisite. Love love love!!!

  5. REPLY
    John says

    Thank you so much for sharing this. It’s easy to sit here and watch your videos – which only give me a limited idea of the sanctuary. You’ve provided so much more with this posting.

  6. REPLY
    Bernadette Rey says

    I have certainly learned it is ok to be human because after all that is what we are. As long as we show our kindness, the best human feature of all

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      That is true in so many ways.

  7. REPLY
    Katie Howard says

    Extraordinary. Honesty is so enabling. I can’t imagine the range of emotions you experience daily. I would think you have to have an ability to forgive yourself for mistakes, fairly regularly, without despairing. Kudos to the team.
    I am POSITIVE the elephants in your care are immensely appreciative of your efforts – even when less than perfect. ❤️

  8. REPLY
    Tammy says

    Thank you for opening up like this it really does give us an intimate look into what you go through daily as a dedicated caregiver. It does take many many years to learn elephants in general then learn each of them on a personal level so different complex and unique which I’m sure can be challenging at times one can only imagine what they go through day to day their ups and downs of struggling with the trauma of abuse they have been forced to live with for far to long now it’s all new different learning how to just be a free elephant free to chose learning how to react to grow to be part of a new family with their sisters and caregivers too something they’ve been lacking longing for now they’ve got that chance that opportunity because of people like you! 💞

  9. REPLY
    NANETTE Cummings says

    God Bless all you do. These are the gentle giants and need the care and love you give. You are also gentle giants. 😍

  10. REPLY
    Bonnie Kraft says

    Scott, what a gift you have in expressing yourself with words such as you just wrote! Not only are you excellent w elephants but good at making all of us followers understand your endeavors and heart! Thanks for this article!

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      It is always special when Scott has time to write something. It comes from the truest place.

  11. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman-Eaton says

    Scott, I read and re-read your post. Your insight, experience, compassion and love for these formerly abused girls, and how you care for them wonderful and inspiring. I do not have enough words in my vocabulary to express how grateful I am for you, Kat, and the other caregivers at GSE.

  12. REPLY
    jean says

    Beautifully said❤

  13. REPLY
    Alana says

    Wonderful read! Says it all. Kindness works. Thanks for all you do, for the elephants & your extended family around the globe. I always feel welcome here.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Thank you for saying that. We appreciate how much you care.

  14. REPLY
    Angie Gibson says

    As I said in response to a recent heartfelt post of yours regarding the many ways sanctuary life is so exceptional: I don’t know how y’all do it! When I stumbled into the elephant world years ago, I (and shortly thereafter, my husband) fell so hard that all we wanted with all of our hearts was to help captive elephants, especially the precious Ellies (and they are ALL precious ❤️) at the local zoo near us. You talk about witnessing trauma and stress and then you can’t even sleep at night because you want to make life better for a soul that is suffering and have no idea how! In brief, we would drive all over just dreaming of buying a patch of land and starting a new , true sanctuary (there are none in our state) and then learning upon learning, we came to the great realization that EVERYTHING THAT HAS TO DO WITH ELEPHANTS IS HUGE—the land is huge, the equipment is huge, the transportation is huge, the food is huge, the fences are huge …..all the expenses are astronomically HUGE (need I continue , for we see you all at the sanctuary daily) and the bottom line is: only a very few people are born to carry out such magical and monstrous endeavors. So we came back to reality and said we will put all our efforts into supporting those of you who have a handle on what it takes to care for the captives ❤️ You and Kat, and a handful of others around the world , were definitely born to do this! One of the biggest obstacles though is, in order to even begin to gain their trust and to even begin to heal them and give them that new life they so deserve is: they have to actually GET to the sanctuary!! Too much time goes by—and each day that passes and these elephants still remain captive and suffering is a day they could have begun healing—my heart still breaks for Pelusa😢. All the politics, red tape, and facilities/ owners who won’t release or relinquish these animals ….it’s just nonsensical to us. We just need to get them to sanctuary so that you can do what you do —and there may be mistakes along this road, but like you said, you are all (human and nonhuman) learning and growing together for a purpose that is so good and right. Something has to change now to facilitate the lengthy process of getting the Ellies to sanctuary to even begin to give them back just some of what was stolen from them. Why humans even messed with elephants , I will never understand—God gave them everything in nature that they needed, and for free! And I just thank God for you, Kat and those who are out there, blood, sweat and tears on the front lines, making breakthroughs for these magnificent Beings and educating us all, making out hearts grow bigger and bigger to help one another❤️ Thank you for all you do. Trunk kisses to all the Girls🐘💕

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Your dedication is so admirable and rare. It can be difficult to understand everything that goes into sanctuary- but having a community that helps keep us going is essential. You may not be able to found your own sanctuary, but your understanding of their plight is deep and thoughtful. You’re a wonderful advocate for elephants and the future of sanctuaries around the world. Thank you.

  15. REPLY
    Wim says

    Thank you Scott for sharing ‘A Day in the Life of Elephants’. Masterclass of being introspective. Can’t even imagine how difficult it is to be a lifetime carer for the traumatized ladies.
    All l can see from the outside is a beautiful dream that’s build brighter day by day performed by an exceptional team!
    The wonderful circle of life.

  16. REPLY
    Rachel says

    Everyone’s post is spot on – there’s no need for me to add anything except to stay silent and ponder all the kind, compassionate humans that live among us who inspire us to never stop growing, never stop working for those who are suffering – humans and animals alike. I’m fiercely dedicated to organizations like GSE who help me help others. My deepest gratitude.💝

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