Most of you have now come to know Ingo, the new international director at Elephant Sanctuary Brazil, and an experienced caregiver. As our followers have learned more about his gentle nature and techniques in working with individual elephants, we have received some questions about how he is adjusting to working with the girls and, in particular, Lady.
Ingo is still in the beginning stages of care contact with all of the elephants, as so much of his work so far has been observing and taking in the personalities, needs, and nuances of each individual. With respect to Lady in particular, he is still in the early days of direct and supervised care. Lady is the most thorough teacher, but she combines patience with a straightforward approach when educating new caregivers about her needs. It is a different experience just watching her during treatments and actually participating in her care.
Recently, Ingo was doing footwork with Lady and was focused particularly on the task at hand, rather than really seeing her reactions as a whole elephant. Scott reminded him to wait a minute, take a step back, and look at what she was communicating that he might not be seeing at the moment. And Ingo acknowledged: YES – Lady realized he was concentrating on her toes rather than her entire being.
Because he has so much experience with elephants, Ingo is very skilled at working and being thorough at care; but Lady is a completely different individual who asks that you look beyond your action or her behavior regarding one element of care, and acknowledge the fullness of her being. That means learning the complicated mental exercise of letting her know that you see how your thoughts and movements impact her, and how she may be processing what you’re doing as a part of a whole and not as a single action. For even an experienced caregiver, this is a difficult technique, but one that can transform how you care for all elephants. Ingo’s awareness of this is helping him to understand her needs and work diligently on giving Lady what she truly needs.
Scott and Kat came into this work with years of experience treating elephants in recovery, and yet Lady has been one of their greatest teachers. No one is a perfect caregiver all of the time and she still reminds them to be present at times. Her method of teaching keeps those who work with her in a mindful headspace. It is not easy. If you are working with Lady’s back feet, but thinking about her front feet, she seems to sense that and will let you know. There’s a similar connection that might happen with human behavior; a person might be having an interaction with someone else and not be fully present, or thinking of their own response to a point instead of focusing on hearing what the other is saying. This is not an exact comparison, but it can help in understanding how to interpret Lady’s needs. She demands such a high level of excellence, attention, and presence, that you truly cannot begin to think a mere second in advance of what you’re doing without her asking you to pull back.
So, where are Lady and Ingo in the care process? He is eager to learn, but is still taking the equivalent of a master class from the ultimate professor of mindfulness. She is very patient in the beginning, when working with new caregivers. Lady makes her needs obvious at first, in her reactions, looks, and cooperation. She tries to call you back into the moment at hand in pronounced ways if she thinks you need to see more subtleties. But if a caregiver doesn’t pick up on those communications after time passes, Lady becomes less tolerant of a lack of progression and understanding. As a last resort, she will give the bars of the treatment chute a nudge to let you know she needs more of you. Lady gives you a moment to realize what you are doing and, if you don’t have that realization, she reacts in whatever way she feels is necessary – to varying degrees.
Lady is patiently asking Ingo, “Where is your head right now?” This is the beginning of her process, and the beginning of his understanding of her. His eagerness to connect with Lady shows his commitment to the ultimate goal of impeccable care of all elephants. It is an exciting process to watch, and a welcome reminder to all of us in how to best care for each individual.
Photo of Lady, enjoying the greenery she so loves