Most of our Mara health updates have been brief: references to her decreased appetite, undiagnosed gastrointestinal (GI) issues, antisocial behavior with Bambi, etc. That is mostly because, aside from the behavioral issues, most updates would consist of ‘today she liked only bananas for breakfast, at lunch bananas were the worst.’ ‘At dinner, watermelon and squash were divine and at 10pm, Maia wanted to eat the world.’ Everything continues to shift, and although her issues remain undiagnosed, we feel there have been enough changes that we can paint a bigger picture. We wish we could provide more answers, but as you know, transparency is important to us, as is keeping our sanctuary family informed. So we want to share with you what we can. Also know, many, many, things have been tried that are not included in this post, just not included in the interest of not writing a book.
Starting in mid-September, while our team was at the zoo moving Bambi to the sanctuary, Kat noticed that Mara was becoming pickier with her appetite and not eating some of the hay she was being offered. Mid-September was still very hot and dry in Brazil, and there was no new grass growing for the girls to graze on. We thought that maybe Mara’s decreased appetite was just because it was so hot (hottest driest season to date), and she was not used to this weather, which is very different at times from the weather she had in Argentina.
Later in September, we noticed that Mara started to show occasional signs of abdominal discomfort and not feeling well, in addition to a decreased and pickier appetite. She would hold her mouth open for a couple of seconds, which can be a sign of abdominal pain in elephants, and would sometimes stand with her legs crossed (which can also be a completely normal behavior). Some days she would be very low energy and was not moving around much while the sun was intense; instead, she would stay by the pond. A little while later, her picky appetite morphed into her having no interest in her grain and liking some foods one feeding and not the next.
Some possible causes for an elephant not eating well in this manner: colic/abdominal pain, infection, teeth issues, metabolic issues, cancer, ulcers. Some of these have been ruled out, some we are using an appropriate treatment for, while others are simply not possible to diagnose. Elephants and horses are very similar in the anatomy of their Gi tract and with common diseases. Gi ulcers are a very common problem in horses, and I (Dr. Trish) would guess elephants, but they are not a commonly diagnosed problem. (captive whales and dolphins also get ulcers.) Horses with ulcers show decreased appetite and pickiness (food dropping) and abdominal pain and irritability, (we have also noticed mara being less tolerant with both Rana and Bambi), and muscle/weight loss.
We encouraged Mara and Rana to come back to the barn, from near the pond in yard 4, so we could keep a closer eye on her and offer her more frequent meals and a larger variety. We began cooking rice pumpkin porridge, sweet potatoes, and carrots (which she rarely eats raw ). Due to her signs of abdominal pain, we gave her an injection of an anti-inflammatory medication with antispasmodic effects on the gut, which improved her appetite and any signs of discomfort very quickly. This has been repeated to help with her discomfort and decreased appetite. Initially, it provided her pain relief and a quick return of her decreased appetite for several days. Its effects recently started to only last a couple of days, and the improvement to her appetite was not as substantial.
Based on the significant possibility of a GI ulcer, we started the appropriate medications, but it wasn’t easy to get Mara to take one of them initially. We tried it ourselves, and it is very bitter. It was offered in everything from frozen fruit juice to jelly sandwiches, cake batter, and oatmeal. She would initially take it one day in something, but then refuse it the next. She is very suspicious of and will inspect her food, breaking it apart if she can smell any trace medicine. The local holistic veterinarian recommended ozonated water, some homeopathic remedies, and other essential oils. We also started acupuncture with the laser.
Another GI medication was added a couple of weeks later when Mara continued to show bouts of abdominal discomfort every 5-7 days. This medication she treated like candy, and gladly took them in her nose and popped them in her mouth. She got into a regular schedule of taking all of her meds for weeks but has recently stopped accepting any oral treatments almost entirely and is now even more suspicious of anything and everything we offer her. Believe us, EVERYTHING has been tried to get her to take oral medications.
Mara has had the strangest, pickiest appetite I have ever seen an elephant have. She usually has no interest in eating in the morning, but as she eats, her appetite improves, and pickiness decreases throughout the day. You never know what she is going to want that day and even how she will want it cut. She continues to be offered a substantial variety of foods on an almost hourly basis.
Initially, she was not eating much hay, but we were cutting fresh grass and bringing it to her near the barn, and she was eating all of that. Lately, that shifted, and she only wants fresh grass sometimes, and only if she picks it herself, but will also eat small bits of hay. She still enjoys her pumpkin rice, and she was eating 30-50 kg of changing variety of fruits and vegetables every day. These past few days, it has been mostly pumpkin, squash, pears, and watermelon without the rinds. We are keeping an eye on her weight, and she has lost under a couple of hundred kilograms, but she was overweight upon arrival, so her weight is still ok.
This week, Mara started showing additional signs of discomfort. We have seen her stereotyping (swaying) again as she did in Buenos Aires. This had disappeared quickly after she arrived at the sanctuary, until now. It is not often or throughout her day, but it is something we haven’t seen during her time here. It is difficult to not know exactly what is going on with Mara, but we are trying to make sure we control her discomfort with medications, and a new pain medication has just been added to her regimen.
The difficulty with Mara is we still don’t have an official diagnosis for the cause of her decreased picky appetite. And we most likely won’t.
Although several tests have been run, we are limited diagnostically with what we can do because Mara is an elephant. In a person or dog or cat or even horse, ultrasound, endoscopy, CT/MRI could be done to try and diagnose what is causing her abdominal pain. Available treatments that have dosages and have been used successfully on elephants are also limited. Due to her reluctance to accept anything by mouth, her treatments/medications are also more limited now, and injectables are being used more frequently, which she tolerates with relative ease but usually are followed by her signature squeak.
Right now, we will continue to treat the treatable with Mara. We will continue with her traditional and non-traditional medical treatments. We continue to offer Mara frequent meals of a wide variety of foods, including live foods (sugar cane, bamboo, banana leaves, and branches from other trees). And most importantly, she continues to spend her time with Rana, spending time at the fence rumbling with Bambi, and still venturing out to enjoy the space that sanctuary offers.
All photos in this post were taken this week
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Wim saysDecember 10, 2020 at 4:42 pm
Poor lovely Mara what a troubling time for you. Wonderful how all possible treatments are tried out. Must be frustrating without any clear diagnosis to help this wonderful girl.
Thank you for trying all possible options.
Strength and courage Mara. ???
Deb Moore saysDecember 10, 2020 at 4:44 pm
Small dogs can get a ‘morning urpy tummy’ and throw up bile, usually only because their stomachs are empty! So I started giving him a bit of rice or yogurt at night. The problem went away.
If she has an underlying condition maybe that first morning empty tummy is a hard hurdle for her. I hope she can settle out and/or you can find what helps her.
Susan saysDecember 10, 2020 at 4:53 pm
She is so loved! Prayers are being sent up for Mara.
Lois Steinberg saysDecember 10, 2020 at 4:54 pm
She has had over three wonderful and enriching years with Global Sanctuary and you are giving her the best of the best care. She is a highly evolved sentient being and appreciates all you have done for her. She may be in the dying process despite doing all you can with limited ability to treatments. I am sure what you are doing is helping, but we also have to accept that she may be in a slow decline. I am so glad you are doing all you can and most importantly, her too. She has lived the end of her life free and has made friends on her terms.
Barb saysDecember 10, 2020 at 4:56 pm
Well after having horses for years and dealing occasionally with their colic I can empathize with Mara. I know that “helpless” feeling when you can’t make them “all better”. At least our vet could tube the horses and offer relief but an elephant is a more complicated patient.
Goodness, all the ESB supporters are hopeful for Mara. Thank you for your frankness.
Nancy Shaw saysDecember 10, 2020 at 5:02 pm
THANK YOU for ALL your love and efforts you give this special Elephant.
Alana saysDecember 10, 2020 at 5:07 pm
Thanks so much for the information. I will continue to hold her in my thoughts
Lori Hoover saysDecember 10, 2020 at 5:25 pm
That squeak of Mara’s really is her special signature, isn’t it? She does make some of the most precious noises in the world. I hope Mara will improve, it breaks my heart to think of her resorting to stereotyping sometimes. I’m sure it’s a reflex for her, with her discomfort. I can relate, believe me, but mostly, I hope she continues to pull herself out of that. Thanks so much for the update, I’m still digesting it all and just wanted to say thank you.
arie saysDecember 10, 2020 at 5:37 pm
Of course Mara is no spring chicken and is likely to have more chance of health problems than young animals. But as long as she eats regularly and doesn’t lose too much weight, there is hope that she ‘s all right and only a little fuzzy about her food.
I know you all are doing everything to help her and she couldn’t be more pampered.
Debbie Sides saysDecember 10, 2020 at 5:40 pm
I do hope she gets better. Thank you for doing all you can for her. So glad she has the other girls to lean on.
Maru Paulet saysDecember 10, 2020 at 6:04 pm
Thank you so much for love and take care of her. I love Mara with all my heart and I hope she get well soon. My sweet Mara you deserve the best and I really hope you can enjoy the Sanctuary.
I have no words for you people but THANK YOU!!!
Javita saysDecember 10, 2020 at 7:09 pm
Seria posible llevar a su antigua cuidador? Del zoo de buenos aires?
Kat Blais saysDecember 10, 2020 at 7:15 pm
We talk to the zoo frequently. Not sure what help a caregiver would be, especially since all of her caregivers were new and worked with her for less than a year.
Sue saysDecember 10, 2020 at 8:08 pm
I can’t imagine how hard it must be trying to figure out what is going on with our Sweet Mara. I believe she is in the best place that she can be, with humans and friends that care for her and for her well being. Thank you for keeping us informed and for providing the best care and love possible to these magnificent ladies. ❤️?❤️
Débora Kokal saysDecember 10, 2020 at 9:07 pm
Muchas gracias por todo lo que hacen por Mara, no es nada fácil, y lo hacen con tanto amor! Que se ponga bien pronto, abrazos desde Buenos Aires!
SHEILA saysDecember 10, 2020 at 9:17 pm
THANKS VERY MUCH KAT AND DR. TRISH??. IT CERTAINLY IS A MYSTERY THIS MARA ISSUE! MY BEST GUESSTIMATE IS SHE HAS SOME FORM OF INTESTINAL BLOCKAGE OR GUT TWIST INSIDE HER COLON OR STOMACH UNFORTUNATELY. SO VERY HARD TO DETERMINE IN A BIG ANIMAL LIKE MARA!! IM NO VET!! BUT WHEN COW OR HORSE GET THIS SORT OF BEHAVIOR AND LOSE OF WEIGHT ITS GENERALLY AN INTESTINE TWIST ⚠️VERY CONCERNING,! THE STEREOTYPING I THINK SHOWS THAT SHE IS IN INTERNAL PAIN! POOR MARA! COULD SHE HAVE A. HAYBALE TWINE WRAPPED AROUND SOME INTESTINE FROM ZOO TIME EVEN POSSIBLY❓ I SINCERELY ?HOPE AND ?PRAY THIS MYSTERY HEALTH ISSUE RESOLVES VERY SOON? A SUGGESTION;❗️ CAN A PORTABLE SMALL CAMERA BE FED TO MARA AND THEN FETCHED FROM HER DUNG❓ IN CANADA MEDICAL STOMACH PROCEDURES R INVESTIGATED BY A LARGE BEAN SIZE CAMERA THAT TAKES PICTURES OF THE STOMACH! INTESTINES AND COLON! OH GOD ?PLEASE FIND THE ANSWER TO MARAS ?HEALTH MYSTERY!
Sallie saysDecember 10, 2020 at 11:27 pm
Dearest Sweet Mara, we all pray for your improvement. We LOVE you by the thousands, and hope you feel better soon! Sometimes the most painful of things, are the easiest to fix. P.S. I eat nothing but bananas myself in the early morning before I go walking . . . Nothing like a good banana!
Sunny saysDecember 10, 2020 at 11:59 pm
Thank you for all this info. I hope Mara get well soon. ?
Kenneth Newman saysDecember 11, 2020 at 12:49 am
I hope its NOT some type of cancer……Or that she ate something that she wasn’t supposed to….
Kat Blais saysDecember 11, 2020 at 3:03 pm
It’s been going on too long for it to have been that she ate something inappropriate.
Alejandra Enquin saysDecember 11, 2020 at 3:13 am
GRACIAS KAT??❤‼️por todo lo que le brindan a MARA,LA AMAMOS!!! Dios quiera se mejore pronto y se encuentre un remedio que la alivie pobrecita!!Ella es tan adorable!! Sus “errrs ,”tan personales y la dulzura en sus ojos.Merece disfrutar su vida feliz,con su querida Rana y las chicas!!! Sana Mara Sana corazon !!! Te amamos❤‼️
Rosie P saysDecember 11, 2020 at 3:24 am
I know the feeling well when an animal is sick and there is little response to any treatment. The overwheming feeling of desperation comes flooding back when I think of our sweet Mara. I cannot bear to think of her in pain or discomfort but I know she is in the best of hands. I pray she will improve but thank you for being honest with us. She has had over 6 months of love and freedom and friendship and we all want this to continue for a long time yet. If love can help her then she will live forever.
FRANCINE FORD saysDecember 11, 2020 at 9:58 am
Poor sweet, squeaky Ms Mara. I feel for her as I am myself right now going through some kind of mysterious tummy trouble. Kept me up half the night with pain. Ms Mara is in the best place for care with y’all right now. Can she be trained to take an ultrasound if her gi tract? I know y’all try to be as hands off as possible so an ultrasound might not be possible; just a thought. Oh Ms Mara, you are an enigma! Sending Love, Light & Reiki energy your way!
Kat Blais saysDecember 11, 2020 at 3:05 pm
It’s not about training, she would be good for it. Those machines simply aren’t strong enough to penetrate intra-abdominally or thoracically. Elephants are just too big.
Carol Anderson saysDecember 11, 2020 at 10:36 am
I myself have a medical problem that has not been diagnosed and is getting worse. Medicine as good as it is has its limits. This problem can drive one crazy. We can send men into space but medicine lags in many ways. One can only wait while the Docs use the age old “rule out” to decide what is causing a problem. This is what you are doing. I hope you have better luck than I have had. GOOD LUCK
Carol saysDecember 11, 2020 at 11:25 am
oyyyy….so sad and frustrating that she cannot be accurately diagnosed and treated, assuming her diagnosis is treatable… Prayers going up for our girl!!!
ANDREA saysDecember 11, 2020 at 4:15 pm
que aflitivo saber que Mara nao esta bem….tao pouco tempo de santuario, ela ja tinha esses sintomas em bs as?
Kat Blais saysDecember 12, 2020 at 6:17 pm
She had intermittent gastrointestinal issues there, but not the same as here. This is probably just a progression of what has gone on in her past.
Sabrina EmilseTorres saysDecember 12, 2020 at 2:58 am
Ay Maruca hermosa, mejorate pronto❤️?. Abrazo desde Buenos Aires.
Mia saysDecember 14, 2020 at 11:28 am
I hope Mara will get better soon! Thank you for keeping us informed
ginger lyvere peck saysDecember 20, 2020 at 12:50 pm
Sending my love to you all with the hope that you humans find a remedy and Mara finds the comfort she so richly deserves. I think that if she were still in captivity, her symptoms would be worse and not treated at all. I know she knows you’re trying to help and I pray that her days in sanctuary continue to heal her soul. Happy Holidays to my heroes!
Lisa Pezzella saysDecember 20, 2020 at 2:35 pm
thank you for all you’re doing. unfortunately medications only cover up symptoms. Is there any way a Zoo near by or not so near by can come w/an Ultrasound or something like that? Would you be willing to give her a supplement that could possibly help? if so, please e mail me.
Kat Blais saysDecember 23, 2020 at 4:46 pm
As we explained, not being able to do an ultrasound has nothing to do with our abilities or her cooperation. Elephants are too large to allow ultrasound waves to penetrate intra-abdominally or thoracically. It’s just not possible no matter who we work with or who is contracted. We have numerous vets from around the world, who specialize in elephants and equine GI health working on Mara’s case. We have run many tests, but we don’t have the same ability as you would a dog, horse, or human. She is on several supportive supplements and numerous different modalities are being used to try and help her.
Juliet Camp saysDecember 20, 2020 at 4:03 pm
I’m just curious. In humans gut health and brain health are closely related. The gut is like a second brain. Could that be the same for elephants and horses since their guts are similar??? Mara’s diet sounds yummy and exceptional. I’m sending her love and light. <3
Juliet Camp saysDecember 20, 2020 at 4:06 pm
I’m just curious. In humans gut health and brain health are closely related. The gut is like a second brain. Could that be the same for elephants and horses since their guts are similar??? Mara’s diet sounds yummy and exceptional. I’m sending her love and light.
SHEILA saysDecember 21, 2020 at 4:19 am
GOD BLESS U FOLKS AND STAFF KAT??❤️ IM SURE THERE R MANY DAYS OF FEELING BAD BECAUSE NOTHING IS RIGHT FOR MARA! ITS ALMOST AS IF SHE HERSELF IS EATING WITH THE PROCESS OF ELIMINATION OF FOODS THAT SHE MIGHT THINK BOTHER HER???
IS IT POSSIBLE TO GIVE HER GINGER ALE WATER⁉️ WHEN HUMANS HAVE GAS! STOMACH UPSET PEPPERMINT TEA! PEPPERMINTS! OR GINGER ALE SODA IS GREAT!! PERHAPS A TUBE FEED OF GINGER ALE INTO HER STOMACH! IS THAT POSSIBLE❓ YES MARA SURE HAS THINNED DOWN! DOES BLOOD TEST INDICATE CANCER CELS PRESENT❓ OH GOD I SURE HOPE NOT?PRAYING ?WHEN PUPI AND KUKY GET THERE MAYBE SHELL FEEL!BETTER WITH OLD FRIENDS NEAR?
THANK YOU ?VERY MUCH FOR THE DECEMBER UPDATE IN THE SANCTUARY AND THE LADIES?
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December Mara health update