Maia’s Unique Ability


Captivity changes elephants. Even once they arrive at Sanctuary, they can still struggle with complex thinking, problem-solving, and long-distance communication. These skills tend to improve with time, but they don’t seem to develop to the same level that wild elephants are known for having.

Maia seems to have a skill that is unique among most of the captive elephants we have known—the ability to find the others. It’s a fundamental skill of wild elephants, but it’s often lost in captivity as there is no reason for it in a tiny enclosure or a circus tent.

We have worked with other bonded elephants (all female Asian) who would lose each other, sometimes when one of the two was sleeping, other times when someone wandered off unnoticed. They would still be relatively close, but they would walk in the wrong direction in search of their friend. Instead of stopping, calling, and then listening, they would venture off. One pair literally had one elephant around the corner of the barn from the other, out in the yard, and they still couldn’t find the other. It is not a secret that captivity strips away different facets of who an elephant is, but it is sometimes surprising to the degree it happens.

Maia and Guida had an incredibly deep bond, but they didn’t spend all of their time together. Just like she does now, Maia would wander off, as would Guida. It wasn’t surprising to go out to feed and sometimes find them in different corners of the habitat. They spent a lot of time together but were also very independent elephants.

Maia, somehow, seemed always to know where Guida was. When feeding, it can take us a while to find all the elephants and deliver their food. There were times we would find, and feed Maia first, and then spend a bit looking for Guida. She was always good at finding little hidden spots and not food motivated enough to come to the four-wheeler for dinner. On occasion, when we found Guida, Maia would have already finished her dinner and beaten us there. That means Maia wasn’t following the loud 4wheeler but was using other methods to find Guida and making a beeline to her.

Even now, when Maia shows up near the other elephants, it seems intentional. Whereas the others often seem to stumble upon each other’s locations. As we mentioned in a post the other day, Mara didn’t realize Maia was nearby until she had walked up. That simply isn’t something that Maia would miss. With all the quick visits Maia makes, it’s a useful skill for a social butterfly to have.

August 13, 2020


  1. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman Eaton says

    Interesting. I would think they could smell the other elephants. Captivity and slavery of these beautiful souls absolutely destroys them mentally and physically. Such a special girl that Maia is. I love everything about her. Thank you for your detailed updates. They are so educational, and helps us understand the complexity of these special beings that have suffered so much,

  2. REPLY
    Sherry says

    Their magnetic field has lost the ability to search and find. It is so sad to me what captivity and cruelty can do to these imprisoned creatures! Your education is quite the learning experience. Thank you.

  3. REPLY
    D says

    That is sad. Captivity damages many animals. We have to be happy they are free now.

  4. REPLY
    Louise Meade says

    I love your posts…Thank you

  5. REPLY
    Nancy Shaw says

    Your last sentence made me smile !!

  6. REPLY
    Carol says

    Thank you so much for educating us all; I wish everyone read your posts. I think our word would be better. Cheers

  7. REPLY
    Tammy Nelson says

    Bittersweet for sure thank you for another very informative post! Have you or Scott gotten close enough to any of the girls to touch their adorable heads? Every picture of these cuties makes me so want to reach out and scratch their heads and if you have what is it like course and bristly? ???????

  8. REPLY
    Barb says

    Well this information was simply astounding both that Maia seems to “know” where the other girls are and that not all captive elephants seem to have that ability or perhaps have lost the ability. Thank you for the education!

  9. REPLY
    Sallie says

    I agree with carol! Such an education for us all, even with knowledge, it is the moment to moment progress that keeps us so engaged. Thank you so much for such an intimate experience. I know we all love and appreciate this. We are readdressing goals at my ngo, and because of the pressure upon elephants in botswana and zimbabwe, we are seeing our location in the rift valley in kenya, being a safe haven for wildlife, even lions, giraffes and zebras.

  10. REPLY
    Sheila says

    Maia! ❤️you are such a smart gal im not sure why u gals r not rumbling to each other when you are missing each other! Maia is a “social butterfly” at the sanctuary and because she just hasnt an extra special sister partner as was guida , I guess maia sees no need to call out to mara! ?or ?rana! Maia has her own mission daily of what shes. Going to do so that socializing comes and goes! I believe the main thing is. Maia is happy‼️

  11. REPLY
    Rosie P says

    This makes me want to scream from the rooftops how incredibly complex these magnificent giants are. To hold any creature captive for whatever means is abhorrent , but to deprive such intelligent beings of basic needs and instincts and force them to entertain for the human public, sickens me. How could anyone enslave them and take away their very soul!!! Why does the human race keep taking!
    Thankfully, not all humans are this way and united we can stand against this and say “NO”! And Maia can now be Maia and we can read in wonder about this amazing girl.
    Love to all and everything that is good in this world.

  12. REPLY
    Wim says

    Your Elephant masterclass goes on and on. Intriguing how they progress when returning to freedom and how adapting to their natural gifts. I presume Maia has a special GPS on board. ???

  13. REPLY
    Ann-Marie Jacobs-Brown says

    This just enforces how utterly wrong and unnatural it is to capture wild elephants. The cruelty goes far beyond anything we humans imagine, even down to robbing them of every natural instinct. It’s appalling, really, when you think about it. And when we react, it’s just to the physical damage we see, without taking into account the hidden damage that these unique, majestic beings have to carry inside themselves for up to 70/75 years. It’s horrifying what we make them endure. Truly ‘gods in shackles’. How absolutely outrageous. Like chaining up great Archangels, hacking off their wings, and making them perform demeaning tricks. But awareness is changing and one day, I pray, humans will revere the elephant, and give thanks that they share this planet with us, because of the invisible but tangible benefits that flow to us from them, without most of us even noticing it. One day…

    • REPLY
      Rosie P says

      This says it all so eloquently, Anne-Marie. I couldn’t agree more. “Archangels” they are and we can be their wings!
      Much love!

  14. REPLY
    Paula says

    Tammy, a mi también me dan ganas de rascar esas cabezas! Son tan hermosas y enormes y muy graciosas cuando se observan los vellos a trasluz ?
    Con respecto a la publicación, Dios mío! Nunca lo había pensado….esto es un claro ejemplo del daño que hace el cautiverio en los animales. Espacios pequeños, donde no se pierde nada, y en el caso de las damas, vivir en soledad, sin nadie más que buscar ?
    Me alegro por Maia! Quizá las demás chicas, ahora viviendo en el santuario, logren desarrollar esta habilidad!
    Gracias GSE por dar la oportunidad de volver a ser un elefante plenamente ❤

  15. REPLY
    Debbie Sides says

    Maia is special as they all are. I love her squishy face.?

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