Mara Makes Footwork Exciting

As we are in the rainy season process of doing footwork on all of the elephants at sanctuary, we had a good session with Mara a few days ago. We also got a funny reminder of just how smart elephants can be, especially when it comes to food

Normally, when working on an elephant’s feet, we keep a crate of food relatively close by. That way, the person who is assisting the caregiver working on the feet can offer rewards along the way. Sometimes that means that after 30 seconds or a minute of trimming, we stop and give the elephant a nice reward for cooperating. They will also get little bits of food during the session, just to keep them focused more on the person in front of them, holding their nose or talking to them, rather than the work being done on their feet. 

While working with Ingo on Mara’s back feet, Scott brought the crate of food a little closer than he normally would, because he wanted to stay engaged with Mara. Ingo asked him to look at something, so when Scott walked back toward Mara’s back feet, she grabbed the crate and pulled it close. She then proceeded to stand there with her foot resting on the gate for about 10 minutes, while also slowly snacking on the food. Once the food was gone, her foot came down from the bars of the chute. Of course, this is not how we normally provide reinforcement to elephants, but nobody was going to take Mara’s crate of food from her at that moment, and she was actually quite stellar.

Afterward, Scott and Ingo went back to the normal protocol for footwork, where they had control over the reward system, which reinforces the elephants when they do what is needed. Even though Mara was cooperative during her mini-feast, she could have taken her foot down and simply continued to eat, without participating in the session. Luckily, she was otherwise really charming, and the afternoon went well for all three. 

Photo of Mara demonstrating her delicate snacking technique


  1. REPLY
    Cintia Abney says

    Such a smart girl!! Does she still trade twigs for food? So adorable 🥰

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      She gets plenty of food without having to make trades these days. In fact, she demands it!

  2. REPLY
    Suzanne Eaton says

    Mara, you are smart and you are beautiful with such a great personality! Love you to the moon and back. Thank you for sharing .

  3. REPLY
    Katie Howard says

    That Mara! Silly girl 🤣

    I love these vignettes you share with us! Brings us into the daily life at Sanctuary 🤗

  4. REPLY
    Patricia says

    Holy smoke, I sure love you, Mara! What a smart cookie and adorable girl you are. xoxo

  5. REPLY
    Alana says

    Mara’s Luck Day! She’s a Smarty.

  6. REPLY
    Wim says

    Good job Miss Mara. You’re very accomplished with your Latin knowledge.
    Quid pro quo. 🙏🐘💚

  7. REPLY
    Debbie Sides says

    That is the cutest thing putting her foot on the crate😄 She is such a funny girl!

  8. REPLY
    Lori DeHoog says

    I think Mara was the teacher by getting her own “treat” teaching you to not put it so close next time. P.S. I am an animal trainer of 40 years teasing you a little.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Gentle teasing between caregivers is allowed. 😉

  9. REPLY
    Lynne Russert says

    LOL, she got one over on you!!! Very smart girl!!😆😆😆

  10. REPLY
    Andy says

    How very clever and cute too.

  11. REPLY
    Bonnie says

    She’s a little stinkers

  12. REPLY
    Pauline says

    Sweet Mara. I am so happy they took her from our zoo to your sanctuary!!!

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      We know how loved she was there, but are proud to give her a happy home here.

  13. REPLY
    Pauline says

    Thank you!

  14. REPLY
    Pauline says


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