National Wildlife Day at the Sanctuary

Rana and Mara

Wildlife here is everywhere, and it’s National Wildlife Day.


We wanted to share a little about the black birds that are frequently visible in our photos and that most elephants are a bit nervous around when they first arrive. In Portuguese, they’re known as Anu-pretos, and, in English, they are called Smooth-Billed Ani. They’re in the Cuculidae family, which means they are a type of cuckoo. You can hear their two-tone calls in most videos we post, as they are usually near the elephants.

Ani (pronounce ah-nee) live in groups, and, while they fly, they are mostly ground birds. They share communal nests, which means that several pairs together build a nest (males and females both), and all the females lay their eggs in the same nest. All the couples raise the young together, taking turns sitting on the eggs and, later, taking turns feeding the babies. They usually raise two to three broods a year – and incredibly, the older juveniles help raise the next brood of babies.

They mostly feed on bugs, including termites, ticks, and insects. Evolutionarily, they follow grazing animals, eating disturbed insects and fallen ticks. They occasionally remove ticks from other animals (such as tapirs or cattle). We haven’t seen them try to eat ticks off any of the elephants. There are quite a few types of biting insects here, so the elephants seem to enjoy having ani around them.

They’re very sociable birds and are always in a group – if one wanders off too far, it calls to the others until they reunite – even as adults. Ani are beautiful birds if you look closely at them, but they usually show up as black outlines in our photos.



When we lived in Tennessee, we had barn cats, whose technical purpose was to keep rodents away from the elephants’ food.  Their main job ended up being receiving affection and treats from humans.  In Brazil, we have a wild tegu, which is a type of lizard, who has taken up residence near the Asian Barn.  They can grow to be 4.0–4.5 ft (120–140 cm) long. We call him Godzilla, and, since he is wild, we don’t pet him or interact with him.  Tegus eat rodents (among other things), and he does a good job keeping them away from the elephants’ grain.  We always keep fresh bowls of water around for our dogs, chickens, wildlife, and bees.  Since it’s the dry season, he seems to enjoy our water dishes as well.  We rarely see him during the rainy season and will frequently go days without seeing him during the dry, so we always get excited when he walks through.  The wildlife here never ceases to amaze us.


It’s easy to miss – or to forget about – the wildlife around us. Even though Brazil isn’t the elephant’s natural habitat, it’s their home, and it’s incredible to see local wildlife adapt to life around the elephants.

Photo of Mara, with a few ani, and Rana in the background.

September 4, 2020


  1. REPLY
    Wim says

    Pretty picture for National Wildlife Day and interesting story. How amazing birds are and the important role they play on all continents.
    They’re fighting a tough battle of survival like most creatures do. How wonderful you have a tegu for the odd jobs, big adversary to the gardener l suppose. ?

  2. REPLY
    Debbie Sides says

    Wonderful to see wildlife and to coexist peacefully is even better.

  3. REPLY
    Bo says

    Dangerous or not, I cherish wildlife but I can’t help but cherish elephants the most.
    These gentle giants just have got what it takes to melt my heart and soul and I know I am not the only one 🙂
    The fact that their diet is fully vegan probably helps as well.
    I wouldn’t enjoy eating branches and hay I think but other than that, yes, I eat quite the same as elephants so we could share the same vegan ‘plate’ 🙂

  4. REPLY
    Bernadette says

    That’s is fascinating about the birds. What marvellous little creatures. Love your stories. Have been following every morning with my coffee. Thankyou

  5. REPLY
    Susan says

    Great post, thank you! Nature never ceases to amaze!! Watching Godzilla made me think of how some dinosaurs might have looked on a walk….such an ancient looking little guy!! Love and hugs to all! ❤️?❤️

  6. REPLY
    Kevin Smith says

    This is pretty amazing Scott. Thank you for sharing this with us in New York and I will pass this on. Thank you Kathleen

  7. REPLY
    Paula says

    Feliz Día Nacional de la Vida Silvestre!
    Es hermoso todo lo que compartes en esta publicación! Gracias!
    Me alegro mucho que las damas tengan tanta vida silvestres compartiendo su hábitat, es tan enriquecedor para la vida de ellas!❤

  8. REPLY
    Sallie says

    I have always loved seeing the interaction of all compatible creatures together – from the Sky, Land and Water. These lovely birds are part of the thriving, balanced ecosystem, but they are “amusing” and not only can hitch a ride, but they provide an arial sense of companionship and devotion – and riding small pests from elephant skin. Some of my greatest memories are the Bird Buddies of the Elephants of Amboseli. It is like an orchestrated ballet . . . that never ends . . .

  9. REPLY
    Patricia says

    I love them all. Godzilla is really cute.

  10. REPLY
    Rosie P says

    Absolutely fascinating! Loved learning about the Ani and how they survive in groups each looking after the other. The ellies have become part of the ecosystem and have learned to adapt to the ani around them. In turn, the ani help to keep the biting bugs down….one species helping the other.
    Godzilla is stunning and also provides a service to the ellies by helping to keep their food free of rodents. Nature’s way, I am at peace with that!

  11. REPLY
    Carey says

    Amazing how certain predator birds and lizards adapt so quickly to new opportunities, I think it’s the first time I’ve heard of birds rearing young communally, this is great! As for Godzilla he looks like he means business doesn’t he! I’m wondering how big he is! How lucky you are to learn about this different ecosystem and see so much of the wild. ?

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