IN MEMORY OF PELUSA
Born 1971 in Hamburg Zoo, Germany.
Died June 4, 2018 at La Plata Zoo, Argentina.
Pelusa epitomized everything that is wrong with captivity and ultimately it's because of human desire. We're the ones that want to be close to elephants. We want to see animals in a zoo because they're beautiful and amazing. We want to touch them, feed them. That selfish desire that we have is what causes situations like this. And it's not just elephants. Many animals suffer in captivity. It's impossible to do justice by them in these confined spaces. -- Scott Blais, Co-founder Global Sanctuary for Elephants on the passing of Pelusa
(top photo credit: Fondation Franz Weber)
…through her last few weeks we all seemed to feel she was ‘glowing’ radiating an angelic light from within, we imagine this is who she was before her physical ailments took over her body and this is how we’ll always remember her. Stunning, stoic, a little insecure, soft with the charming ability to train all of the humans in her life to do exactly what she wanted, no matter how ridiculous.
Although it still hurts to think of the past couple of weeks, we can share stories and smile about how truly marvelous she was. Pelusa suffered at the hands of man but because of her spirit, she was able to open the eyes and hearts of many in her city and around the world. Being so close to sanctuary, yet never walking through the gates made many examine their role in her suffering, realizing they were part of the problem, being ashamed, but also becoming part of the momentum for change. There was no denying captivity killed her and that the only reason she was there was because of human desire. She completely broke many hearts but also changed the future for captive elephants in South America and beyond.
Elephants are the most selfless creatures we have worked with. We have seen them give up everything for another elephant, without thought, judgment or holding a grudge; it is second nature to them. Although this ‘ending’ is not what any of us had hoped for Pelusa, there is some comfort knowing that her death brought about a heartfelt understanding that none of us ever could have and her spirit and light will go on and continue to help elephants around the world. Extraordinary in life and death-never to be forgotten.
When you see Pelusa in photos it’s hard to get past her gaunt appearance and diminished condition. Sometimes there is a sweetness that shines through and immediately creeps into your heart. She was beautiful, even up until the moment she was gently covered in dirt and physically left us forever. In person her tough side was palpable, for all that was physically wrong with her, she forged on with a determination that told you she still wanted to fight.
For as strong as she seemed, you couldn’t help but want to love and care for her and try to find a way to fix decades of damage she didn’t deserve.
It wasn’t until she was confronted with something new that you saw how insecure her physical body had made her. In videos of the past, she had a visible attitude, a little rough and tumble; that strength was still there, it was the confidence that had gone.
Physically she was considerably compromised. Pelusa’s foot issues were significant and the unfortunate result of life in captivity. The zoo acknowledged this and was part of the reason for agreeing to send her to sanctuary. We all knew it was her only chance at an emotionally and physically healthy life. The other big reason for wanting to give her sanctuary was so she could experience the comfort and companionship only another elephant could give to her. Her small, sterile enclosure at the zoo offered her little but she found comfort in her caregivers, they were the joy in her monotonous days. Even they knew this simply wasn’t enough.
We first met Pelusa almost two years ago, before the sanctuary had the infrastructure to house any elephants. This visit began our long relationship with the zoo, making recommendations and trying to improve her condition. Several visits throughout the years were made by Scott and Kat Blais along with elephant and wildlife veterinarian Dr. Gohain. During the last 8 months, Pelusa’s body condition began to deteriorate significantly. She lost weight, muscle mass and the condition of her feet continued to decline. With permit delays we felt it was necessary to send a caregiver to take care of Pelusa in the last months before her transfer; someone that cared only for her and could help to build up her strength before her trip to sanctuary.
We sent Suz, a caregiver we trained and worked with in Tennessee who embodies the term caregiver as the core of who she is, not just her job. Suz quickly fell in love with Pelusa and enjoyed doting on her and playing the daily game of trying to discover what her favorite food of the day would be. Pelusa’s condition and demeanor began to improve- she put on over 500 lbs, became more active, even wandering into the back yard of her enclosure, somewhere she had never ventured. As we all started to gain confidence in her ability to make the trip, Pelusa quickly and drastically began to decline and within a couple of days was found lying down in the morning upon Suz’s arrival.
Immediately we went into emergency mode, giving recommendations with how to proceed and Scott put himself on a plane arriving at the zoo the next morning.
Although arrangements were made to be able to lift her, Pelusa’s body clearly had no desire to stand. Her blood values declined rapidly and she made no attempts to even sit up. It seemed our beautiful girl was done fighting after years of battling through all of the pain, her body was quickly shutting down and the pain and the rest of it was all fading away.
The zoo made the decision to euthanize, all of her humans said their goodbyes and she left the body and the world that had betrayed her for decades- supported and loved. Our commitment to elephants is beginning to end- always. Scott spent the night making sure her body was respected as a grave was dug and she was moved. The next morning Suz and her caregivers returned, a necropsy was done and her body was lovingly adorned and buried in the yard she only recently ventured into, below an archway.
Although it wasn’t the ending we were all hoping for, it was her journey and she had decided it was done. And as in life, we try to listen to what they communicate to us and honor their choices, this time broken-heartedly.
Her Final Days and Burial
The photo below is Pelusa just before she was buried, in her final resting place. The flowers were brought in by the two daughters of one of her caregivers, the key is to her barn- a final gesture of freedom and the broom is broken in true Pelusa style.
Scott and her caregiver with Pelusa while she was down but still eating.
Pelusa’s final resting place at the La Plata Zoo (the tent was temporary for her burial.)
Pelusa, Forever a Part of the Sanctuary
Honesty, transparency and honoring our word have significant meaning to us. It is why we posted as soon as Pelusa went down, shared her progress and passing and now why we will be building Pelusa’s Medical Center. We held a fundraiser to buy supplies to build a jacuzzi and a medical building that would allow us to take optimal care of Pelusa and all of her substantial needs. Now that Pelusa has passed that money will go to its original intention, but instead of aiding Pelusa in her healing, Pelusa will be aiding other elephants in theirs. Although she never met her herd mates in person, she will be a part of them forever.
Her Memorial Plantings at the Sanctuary
Above are her two memorial trees planted at Elephant Sanctuary Brazil. The middle photo is of her pata-de-elefante, elephant’s foot, named so because the base resembles an elephant foot. Her other tree, on the right, is a fruit tree called a jambo, similar to a pear (they can’t grow in this part of Brazil) which will be planted just outside of the first elephant yard, where the girls will be able to reach it once it is large enough to bear fruit.