We recently added two new caregivers to the team, bringing our caregiving staff to four. While we still don’t have a timeline on our next arrivals, it’s good to have the human element in place as early as possible. The learning curve is long and we don’t want to be starting from scratch when a new elephant arrives.
Maira and Guilherme both started on the same day and are a great addition to the team. Lady, who tends to be most watchful around unfamiliar people – especially men – didn’t seem to pay them much attention, which is positive. She was very calm and relaxed with them at a distance at the barn. Their first morning, as to not delay treatment and feeding, they watched Lady’s morning foot soak and treatment routine.
After Lady was done and out in the habitat, we went to talk to them about plans for the day. Without hesitating, they both gushed about how Lady was so good and seemed like such an easy elephant.
To those who have known Lady’s story since just before her road trip to sanctuary, that’s an incredible thing to hear. It doesn’t mean Lady is an easy elephant – she is not, and may never be. Still, it’s a testament to how amazing and incredible she is and how far she has come, in such a short time, that someone’s first impression of her would be that she seems so easy.
Lady continues to grow and evolve, but she is still not an elephant who we would consider to be “all good.” She is incredibly complex – and when her humans are with her and utterly focused and completely present, she is the total peach of an elephant that Maira and Guilherme glimpsed. Lady still has her moments, and she likely always will. The second Lady thinks you aren’t paying attention – perhaps your walkie-talkie went off, or you glanced at your phone, or there’s a gorgeous cloud that caught your eye – she will immediately shift and become less cooperative. Even if the attention is on her, but it’s about her foot trimming later or that we need to look at something else, the lack of focus is still enough to shift Lady’s desire to be helpful in nature. She will start bathing with her foot soaks or step out of her jacuzzi. Lady is clear about her boundaries and has always been. Those in her space listen to, respect, and honor them, which is what allows her to trust and appear ‘easy’.
It’s one of the challenging things about training new caregivers – when you meet the elephants for the first time, you see who they are at that moment. You see who they are after months or years of being listened to and respected and having space, choice, and friends. It’s impossible to see who the elephants were when they arrived because they aren’t that being anymore. If Maira and Guilherme had been here when she first came, they would have seen an elephant that was a product of her past environment.
Sanctuary heals, as we say so often, but we still need to respect their journey. They trust us to honor their needs, and that is an incredible responsibility as well as an incredible privilege.