When elephants first arrive at sanctuary, it is easy for humans to slip into a fairytale ideal of what we want their new life to look like. As much as we’d like for elephants to run out of their crates, embrace the outdoors, and make friends right away, not only is it unrealistic, but it also diminishes what an individual’s life has been like prior to sanctuary. With Pocha having known little and Guillermina knowing nothing of the world outside their concrete enclosure, it is important to honor any needs each of them might have as they move forward on their healing journey. True sanctuary with autonomy recognizes what has come before. Sanctuary heals: that’s not just a catch phrase. But it doesn’t always look the way we might want in our own minds.
During a recent EleFact Friday, we talked about Pocha and Guillermina needing a “safe space” to go to in moments of uncertainty. Because Pocha and Guille have access to other areas outside of the elephant treatment barn, they have freedom to explore larger spaces. But, if they need to return to the barn for comfort, that is okay; we must recognize that the two will not heal overnight. They often return for short moments, which seem to be enough for them to feel renewed in their confidence. At this point in their journey, the gates will remain open.
It’s also important to remember that healing isn’t linear. The idea of taking baby steps forward every day is a comforting one, but sometimes an individual steps forward, then steps back, then decides to go in a direction no one could have anticipated. Whatever Pocha and Guillermina’s paths take, we need to be supportive of what healing looks like for them; they need to be allowed to choose and experience things at a rate that makes them comfortable. That doesn’t mean that we don’t encourage them to expand their comfort zones – as you’ve seen when they were introduced to some of the other elephants, or when they shared time with Rana at the mud wallow. But their comfort is essential to the process, since natural curiosity and emotional growth are keys to overall health.
We must also remember that, though the two elephants are mother and daughter, they are also individuals who are healing at different rates and in different ways. Each has her own comfort level for the amount of interaction or exploration she wants to embrace on a certain day. That makes for a delicate compromise, weighing the importance of each moment and how it will impact one elephant differently than the other. Pocha seems more comfortable interacting with some of the other elephants, and appears to want to explore new areas more quickly than Guillermina; but we still have to take into consideration that Guille may not be ready to expand her horizons as quickly as her mother, and we let the two of them make some of those decisions together.
Ultimately, what Pocha and Guillermina need is not always going to be the same as what we want for them in a given moment. Until now, their entire lives have been about the wants of others and have been subject to people’s expectations. Although it can be incredibly difficult to not have ideas that things will happen in one particular way, our personal longings for them to wander and go farther is another one of those unfair expectations that they shouldn’t have to bear. By stepping away from our own desires, we can make sure they have the space to learn about the new world they live in. We can never dismiss the decades spent in an underground concrete pit. Assigning the two a timeline disregards the trauma they faced and must continue to work through each day. And entering into this relationship with no expectations always means that each step leaves us impressed with their resilience and ability to flourish after decades with no room for growth.
In this video, you can see Pocha and Guillermina hesitantly approaching Yard 4 – stepping in for a few seconds, then out again. It’s just another short moment of progress to be celebrated.