Mara and Her African Elephant Influences

Some of you have been wondering about what caused Mara and Bambi’s “breakup” and why Mara seems to have turned away from Bambi. The truth is that we don’t know, but we do think there is something in Mara’s background that could impact the way she relates to other elephants in general: the years she spent living with African elephants.

For years at the Buenos Aires Ecoparque, Mara lived in the same enclosure as African elephants Pupy and Kuky. By all accounts, they were close – but eventually there was an incident where one of the African elephants ended up in the concrete moat around the enclosure, which could have caused major harm or death. After that, Mara was separated from Pupy and Kuky and they rotated their time inside and outside, to ensure that they were not left together again. 

African elephants and Asian elephants are all very social animals but, amongst the many differences, Asian elephants generally tend to be a bit gentler in temperament. What African elephants see as play would be interpreted by an Asian elephant as something more serious. After years with Pupy and Kuky, Mara’s initial social lessons would have occurred in an unnatural and very different dynamic. 

This is not solely a Mara issue. Before science really explored the communications and emotions of elephants, keeping African and Asian elephants together was fairly common. Nowadays this practice is considered archaic, but there are still several older captive elephants who spent some years of their lives being housed this way. In our careers with elephants, we have worked closely with a couple of Asian elephants who spent years with African elephants. Both had significant social issues and struggled with herd dynamics in a way none of their fellow elephants did. Neither spent time with all of the elephants in their habitat and the two of them could not be housed together and were separated from one another for their duration. While the two species can share space ‘successfully’ at times, there is always a negative impact. Sometimes it is just more subtle, but no less significant. 

So, is Mara being “mean” to Bambi? There is no short answer. The more complex answer is that Mara’s definition of how to be a friend is probably different from the rest of the elephants here or how most  Asian elephants would understand. Yes, she’s an Asian elephant herself, but she was undeniably influenced by her years with African elephants. Prior to that, she spent years alone, so her comprehensive development wasn’t nurtured by a herd of Asian elephants. It was only at Elephant Sanctuary Brazil that Mara – like the rest of the girls – began to learn what a herd can teach and how impactful it can be to have others to help you heal.


  1. REPLY
    Wim says

    The road is long with many a winding turn.
    Strength and courage Mara. 🤗🐘

  2. REPLY
    Kenneth Newman says

    Speaking of African Elephants, when will those captive African Elephants be brought to ESB?

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Kenya is currently scheduled to come to ESB next, though she, Kuky, and Pupy are still waiting on permits to be approved. Kuky and Pupy’s Argentinian export permits have been approved and we are now waiting on their import permits for Brazil. GSE applied for all three import permits on July 22, 2022, and we are still waiting on Brazil to approve them. Due to their extreme delay in approving her permits, Kenya’s Argentinian export permits have expired, and Mendoza has already applied for renewal. Unfortunately, this level of bureaucracy is something that can’t be avoided when moving elephants from one country to another in South America.

  3. REPLY
    Sue says

    Such interesting info, thank you for sharing. If/when Kuky and Pupy come to Sanctuary, will Mara and the other Girls have access to seeing them during the day? I think my understanding is the Africans will be in their own enclosure areas, but I seem to recall that they might be able to see each other in certain areas. Wasn’t sure if that was for the male and female Africans, or if Sanctuary was planning on having both male and female. Sorry so many questions! Also, curious if you think Mara will recognize/remember them? Thank you as always!!! ❤️🐘❤️

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      You are correct that the African elephants will have their own enclosure, the first two yards of which are finished and ready for the new girls when they come. Their enclosure will be completely separate from the Asian elephant habitat.

  4. REPLY
    Sandy says

    What about Tamy? It’s sad to read all the “no” replies on his rescue status. It would be such a gift for Guille to be reunited with her papa esp in light of her mama’s passing. Is there anything GSE supporters can do to help move things along?

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Tamy is still at Mendoza and they are in charge of his training. He has to learn certain behaviors in order to do required testing. I don’t know that there’s much that can be done now, as we wait. We know it’s deeply frustrating and are encouraging them to take the necessary steps as quickly as possible.

  5. REPLY
    Elaine Richard says

    Bless you guys for your usual amazing, insightful, and compassionate take on the lives of the elephants fortunate enough to be in your care. You’re the best. And we know that no harm will ever come to any animal at Sanctuary on your watch.

  6. REPLY
    Richard Chiger says

    I have seen close personal relationships between African and Asian elephants. I have seen them separated because of policies and I think that is very wrong. When we make the rules more important than the student, or in this case, the elephant, we are not being kind. You could have a point in that the behaviors may be different. I think the individual elephant is the important thing and must be seen as such..

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      saying it is due to policy isn’t accurate, it’s because of science and a deeper understanding of both species. many African and Asian elephants have shared space, but we have only known of one pair that was truly bonded- and their relationship was beautiful. when there was discussion about the possibility of them coming to sanctuary, we had decided they would stay together. but there is a significant difference between being able to cohabitate and having a deeper relationship. of the two Asian elephants we worked with, one did well with the African elephant she was with. the other Asian elephant did well with the African elephants she was with, until she didn’t, and she was injured. but with both, their relationships at sanctuary, with elephants of the same species, was much deeper than what they had prior. lions and tigers aren’t kept together, although they are both big cats. species difference mean something and although we live in a time where people love to see different species getting along and wild rehab animals having dog best friends, that doesn’t mean it’s remotely appropriate. with the current scientific understanding of elephants, and numerous issues with mixing species at facilities across the globe, there is no reason to introduce these relationships at facilities at this point.

  7. REPLY
    Terry says

    I was going to ask the same regarding assistance with permits. Could we write letters, sign a petition, offer delicious food to the Brazilian Government??? 😊
    If they become aware of our presence, we may offer a kind and gentle nudge in the transport direction…

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Right now, we are working through some final steps and, if they are unsuccessful, we may request the assistance of the public.

  8. REPLY
    Diane Kastel says

    Is “Bambi” an, African, elephant?

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      We only have Asian elephants at this time. And we wouldn’t house the two together if one of the elephants was African.

  9. REPLY
    Susy says

    Gracias por la información referida al traslado de los elefantes desde Mendoza. No puedo entender el grado de insensibilidad de todos aquellos que tienen que decidir, aprobar y agilizar la aprobación de traslado. Estaré atenta para un reclamo público llegado el momento. Mucha suerte Santuario y gracias por todo el cuidado que realizan por el bienestar de los Elefantes.

Post a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.