Honoring Her Needs


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.

July 24, 2020


  1. REPLY
    Wim says

    Complex and educative story today. Only shows how strong Lady’s inner light must be.
    She has grown yes keeps on growing. Only love, care and understanding inside a peaceful and safe environment can be the solid base to this process. It’s the enormous award for all of you together. This is precisely how The Circle of Life is designed. ???

  2. REPLY
    Alana says

    My bet is Lady will have the her new people trained in no time.

  3. REPLY
    Nishant Bhajaria says

    This is so beautifully written. That last paragraph is one for the ages.

  4. REPLY
    Theresa says

    Yes, Incredible, in so many ways, huge and little. I absolutely love all the uplifting posts you share with us! Many heartfelt THANKS 🙂

  5. REPLY
    Paula says

    Fascinante la labor de interpretar la complejidad de un elefante, observar cada señal, cada emoción, cada vocalización, cada movimiento, cada cambio…
    Desearía ser una mariposa y revolotear al rededor de ustedes para ver y escuchar sus enseñanzas, basadas en la experiencia, el respeto y el amor a los elefantes. Todo un privilegio para Maira y Guilherme?

  6. REPLY
    Allison Guy says

    How do you pick carers? What do they need to have done before you allow them to attend to your girls?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      It’s a mix of experience and who they are as a person. Elephants do better with certain personality types and it’s something we always need to keep in mind. It takes months before any new caregiver begins working with the elephants. First, you need to learn the routine, then there is a lot of observation and discussions (which happen during the first part as well), then it is doing small things with either Scott or myself at their side, then doing things with us at a distance, but still watching, then with another caregiver. Initially, it’s general care, feeding and such, then we introduce them to training with whichever elephant they seem to fit best with. There is no schedule or layout for how it goes, since like everything here, it depends on the elephants. Lady prefers women, but if she seems interested in a man for some reason, they will work with her sooner. If one of the elephants seems to not like someone, they won’t work with them. Some people are more observant and have the ability to see things without coloring it too much with their own experiences, and those people tend to grow in the position much more quickly. It’s incredibly variable.

  7. REPLY
    Barb says

    The journey that all the girls are on at ESB is indeed incredible. With all the love, care, and respect they receive, the journey is made easier. Thank you for sharing the remarkable stories!

  8. REPLY
    Sallie says

    I think it is WONDERFUL that you have 2 new staff members! It is healthful for a ll The Girls, to make adjustments, be curious to Newbies, and to trust the decisions of the sanctuary leaders who saved them. They already know that they can trust you all, so what’s 2 more interesting humans?

  9. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman Eaton says

    Thank you so much for the detailed information. Once again you make it very clear how much you respect and love these beautiful souls with the tortured past. So thank you once again for each and every loving, thoughtful, consideration you give to these special girls.

  10. REPLY
    Bo says

    What Alana wrote, I agree with her comment 🙂

    Your team over there in Brazil, you all do everything possible and perhaps even more impossible (but you make it possible!!!) things to undo whatever human beings previously did all wrong to these amazing lovely elephants.
    Where most people would give up on them, that is where your team begins.


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