Lady is an elephant that keeps everyone on their toes. It’s something we adore about her. She will look at us with her crooked smile, and one particular expression in her eyes, and we know she is feeling spunky, spry, and things have the possibility of becoming interesting. When she’s in a mood, you never know what will happen, but she does give you fair warning.
Some days, her spunk manifests itself in her turning her foot soaks into a bath, ignoring us entirely to splash and play in her medicinal soaks. Other days, she will lean into the bars at a speed unexpected for Lady; no aggression, but lots of energy. Occasionally, she will hit her head into the bars, at the end of a treatment session. It’s almost like she realizes she was a “perfect princess” the whole time and wants to reinforce that she is the boss and doesn’t need to participate. It’s not the same aggressive behavior we saw when she first arrived, but it is still a way she feels she can make a statement. One recent morning, she had that smile and gave us that look, and we were curious what the day would hold. It is a face that makes us laugh every time, although it may mean we have our hands full. Mateus, one of our newer caregivers, was supposed to begin working with Lady’s daily treatment. Working with any animal, especially elephants, teaches you to be flexible. We let Mateus know that it might not be a good day for him to start with Lady and had him stay close as we began her treatment.
True to her style of always keeping us guessing, Lady was absolutely perfect that day. Mateus worked hands-on with Lady – he held her nose, gave her treats, and applied cream to the old abscess on her face that we continue to treat. In some ways, Lady is a difficult elephant to learn to work with and, in other ways, she is easier. Some Asian elephants tend to hide their emotions, or they will watch for patterns and bait someone. Other Asian elephants – like Rana – will act very sweet and then do something inappropriate, seemingly out of the blue. Lady is very clear in her communications. As long as you watch her closely, you can see her behavior shift, letting you know what she is feeling. Despite being easier to read, Lady is still complex to care for, because she isn’t very trusting, especially of men. It makes introducing her to a male caregiver nuanced, but we are pleased to see how it is progressing with Mateus.
Anyone can toss a flake of hay to an elephant, but that isn’t what makes you a caregiver. Being a caregiver for elephants encompasses all aspects of their wellness. It is also about individualizing every interaction with each elephant, not just how you treat them, but how you speak to them or approach them. It’s a lengthy learning process that requires patience on all fronts. The elephants need to learn a new person, too, and decide to trust a new human in their space. Although we love our personal relationships with Lady, it is nice to watch her open up to a new human.It speaks volumes to her growth and recovery here at sanctuary.
Photo of Lady