Pocha’s Necropsy Results

We know that everyone has been waiting to learn more about what happened to cause our dear Pocha’s passing. Because of the specificity of testing, laboratory limitations, and atypical presentation of disease, an initial preliminary report was not created by the university pathology team, as we originally anticipated. The newly released report states that Pocha had extensive and chronic compromise of her internal organs and the official cause of death is being listed as severe chronic kidney disease in association with the granulomatous inflammatory disease, in response to a mycobacterium. Essentially, what this means is that Pocha had contracted a Mycobacterium tuberculosis infection which, during necropsy, presented itself in an atypical fashion.

Generally, Mycobacterium tuberculosis is a pulmonary (lung or respiratory) disease which can spread to other areas of their body.  However, there was no indication of infection in Pocha’s lungs, only in her abdominal cavity. The pathology team believes that the mycobacterium entered her abdominal cavity through significant ulcers that existed in her stomach wall. This infection caused extensive damage throughout her abdominal cavity, including her spleen, stomach, intestines, liver, and lymph nodes. Her thoracic cavity presented as “normal.”

While Mycobacterium tuberculosis is common among captive elephants in North America, Europe, and Asia, it is rare in South America.  The South American climates, which are generally warmer, do not require elephants to stay confined inside with poor air circulation for extended periods of time, a situation that creates a prime breeding ground for mycobacteria.  However, until the enclosure walls were opened for training, the concrete housing where Pocha and Guillermina lived had very poor air circulation, limited natural light and remained damp, all of which can open the door for several infectious agents.

It is imperative to note that elephants are not natural carriers of any species of mycobacterium.  The infection is contracted from outside sources.  In the case of mycobacterium tuberculosis, it is generally passed from people to the elephants.  Pocha and Guille were tested for mycobacterium prior to their transport, as per importation sanitary requirements, but were examined for a different strain. However, based on the extent of the infection found in her body, the granulomas that she developed in response, and the impact on her organs, it is believed this process began at least several years ago.

So, the question exists: What is the risk to the other elephants?

Guille and Tamy have the potential for exposure, as both of them lived in the same facility with Pocha.  We have already initiated additional testing for Guille and, as soon as the Ecoparque Mendoza can advance Tamy’s training, he will receive testing as well.

Due to the climate and facility design of Elephant Sanctuary Brazil, there is a risk, albeit minimal, that the infection could be transmitted to others.  We are presently working to bring additional and more accurate testing methods from outside of Brazil to further monitor the health of the sanctuary elephants.  One of the abnormalities in Pocha’s necropsy is the lack of granulomas or other evidence of infection in her lungs. This atypical presentation of mycobacterium infections suggests a decreased risk of exposure to others through respirations, the most common form of transmission.  In other words, because the disease did not exist in her pulmonary system, she likely could not transmit the disease to others by breathing. Caregivers were under continued mask protocol due to Covid-19, which would be recommended protective equipment in these scenarios. In addition, those who live in Brazil and Argentina are vaccinated against tuberculosis.

Due to the physical distance between the Asian elephants at Ecoparque Mendoza and Kenya, their solitary African elephant, there is a minimal risk of the disease being passed from Pocha to Kenya. However, Kenya will also receive additional testing to monitor her health status. As of now, her baseline blood work does not show any current issues, although it is possible to be infected and still have normal blood parameters.  However, the differences between the facility designs of Pocha and Guillermina’s enclosure and Kenya’s, it is less likely that the disease would be harbored within Kenya’s interior enclosure.

At the sanctuary, Asian and African elephants will be housed and managed separately, and therefore the African elephants will not have any risk of contamination.

The Ecoparque Mendoza and Elephant Sanctuary Brazil are committed to the health of elephants and to the elephant care teams.  Both facilities are currently conducting testing and operational protocols to continue to ensure the safety of everyone involved.

Pocha’s illness is a reflection of the ability of elephants to mask discomfort, but it also reveals her tenacity to remain as healthy as she could for as long as possible. We wholeheartedly believe that she stayed strong until she knew her daughter could have a life of freedom, at which point she felt comfortable letting go. To this day, we are amazed to look back at photos taken just days before Pocha’s passing and find it incredible that she looked so brilliant with all that was going on internally.  Elephants and their unfathomable resilience will never cease to amaze us.

The truth of this matter remains simple: the captive lives that elephants endure before coming to sanctuary causes irreparable damage to their bodies. While there may be instances where we can slow the progression of illness, as we attempt to do with Lady’s feet, there are some things we simply cannot fix. As elephants get older, their immune systems often weaken and they become more susceptible to disease. Pocha’s illness and untimely death is an example of why sanctuary exists – because a life in unhealthy captivity is not suitable for elephants; we have to do better by them. We cannot continue to deny what they show us time and again.

We understand that these results may cause you to have additional questions. Unfortunately, due to the complexities of this case and the medical understanding and language necessary to accurately discuss Pocha’s situation, we cannot address questions on social media or through individual requests. There are many questions that we ourselves would like more information about, but those answers do not exist at this point, and may never exist. All that we can say right now is that we will discuss more information if and when there is more to share. Thank you for your love of Pocha and your ongoing support for Guillermina and all of the elephants at Elephant Sanctuary Brazil.

Photo of Pocha and Guillermina

If you’d like more information on tuberculosis in elephants, you can read the following articles:

Elephant-to-Human Transmission of Tuberculosis, 2009

Diagnosis of Tuberculosis in Three Zoo Elephants and a Human Contact – Oregon, 2013


  1. REPLY
    Cintia Abney says

    Poor Pocha.. I really hope the everybody will be ok and specially Guille, who was in close contact with her mom in that horrible pit.

  2. REPLY
    Pam says

    Oh, dear Pocha. Thank you for letting us know the results. A part of me believes that this is another reason she held herself back from too much interaction with the other elephants, why she would vocalize and get excited, but then pull back before too fully engaging. Perhaps she knew and wanted to lessen the chance of exposing the other elephants to the mycobacterium. I am keeping Guillermina, and all the elephants and staff at Sanctuary, in my prayers for their continued health and well-being.

  3. REPLY
    Adriana says

    Muchas gracias por la información tan clara.

  4. REPLY
    Barb says

    Thank you for the report and it deeply touches all of us who truly love and cherish the elephants at ESB.

  5. REPLY
    Rachel says

    Heartbreaking. Many thanks for the update. Love to all the eles and the staff at GSE. 💝

  6. REPLY
    María Elizabeth Alvarez says

    Sweet Pocha, what she might have endured all those years. ..Thanks You so mucho for the info

  7. REPLY
    Melinda says

    This is heartbreaking news. The evil that some humans do to sentient beings never ceases to horrify me. Pocha did not ask for any of this. She was a wild baby elephant who was kidnapped away from her mom and herd, then exposed to deadly diseases. Thank God she found GSE and could save her daughter. THIS SHOULD NEVER HAVE HAPPENED.

  8. REPLY
    Gin Grand says

    So sad. I hope Tamy is okay.

  9. REPLY
    Julie says

    Thank you for the report. Brave, strong, Pocha, we love you forever!

  10. REPLY
    bo says

    thank you for the information.
    this is quite a lot info to take in, especially for those who don’t have any medical background, knowledge,…
    but all this info is very clear and well explained so thank you!

  11. REPLY
    Patricia says

    Thank you for this brilliant report. It is heartbreaking. I know Angel Pocha is looking down on Guille and the other girls. 😇❤️‍🩹🙏

  12. REPLY
    Katie Howard says

    It was obviously going to be an internal issue but this is surprising. I am amazed at her demeanor and lack of outward signs – and then I think of my husband when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He kept a positive outlook and made the most of his time left. Perhaps that was how Pocha felt when she arrived at Sanctuary. She was positively gleeful and made it a point to separate from Guille repeatedly, so that Guille could make her own friendships. I think Sanctuary, for Pocha, was kind of a pre-heaven and will always be grateful she had that time.
    I am hopeful that further testing of the other elephants reveals no transmission of this disease.
    As always, thank you Scott & Kat for the work you do and the way you do it. This is a hard one…but there are other elephants needing your care and attention and love. Unfortunately, in our lifetimes, there always will be. ❤️

  13. REPLY
    Kenneth B. Newman says

    So lets get Tamy to GSE ASAP !!!!! As well as the various African elephants that are already on the traveling calendar……… for sanctuary………

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      As the post says, Tamy’s training needs to be advanced by the Ecoparque Mendoza before he can be tested for TB. Kenya will be tested as well.

  14. REPLY
    Colleen says

    I know you requested no questions, but is there a treatment/cure if this is found in other elephants?

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      There is a treatment process that’s based on the human treatment for TB. It takes about 9 months to complete.

  15. REPLY
    Rand Cooley says

    It is what it is we will never really know but the important thing is that she did not die in a concrete basin. She was free for whatever short time. You folks do amazing work for elephants and all creatures at the sanctuary. Keep it up

  16. REPLY
    June Ross says

    Thank you for the wonderful write up and explanation of the necropsy results. It is all so very sad! We humans just never learn!
    Love ya POCHA! RIP

  17. REPLY
    Patricia Bamford says

    Thank you so much for this report, very sad indeed that Pocha was so poorly but so brave.
    Thanks once again for your transparency in all issues concerning our beloved girls and for your loving and endless care for their health and happiness.

  18. REPLY
    Debbie Sides says

    That is one of many downfalls of captivity. She endured living in a pit while remarkably raising her daughter in that bleak environment. It’s incredible that she lived as long as she did. Still so very thankful she got to sanctuary – paradise at ESB and Guille has the chance to live as long as possible; however long that may be, every moment of true sanctuary is a gift. Thank you for caring for them💚

  19. REPLY
    LeeAnne says

    Thank you for sharing this information. It’s heartbreaking to know she suffered such a devastating illness, but it’s a small consolation that she knew Guille would be safe.

  20. REPLY
    CAROL says

    i am curious as to whether there are treatments for this infection that can be used in case one of the other girls show positive?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      yes, they are derived from human treatments, but they are long and not gentle on the body.

  21. REPLY
    Magali says

    Sinto um pesar enorme! Ela merecia mais! Mais tempo em liberdade ao lado de sua filha … Dói saber q se foi tão prematuramente e por culpa sim dos humanos. Obrigada SEB! Vcs são importantíssimos p esses animais. Deus os abençoe hj e sempre

  22. REPLY
    Carey says

    Gobsmacked. At the severity of the disease and at her stoicism, and at her love for her daughter and the will to live to care for her. I remember her vocalisations so vividly, as she was so vivid and so engaged with her new life even though she must have been in pain, and must has have felt her physical weakness. That pit she lived in really was a pit. I had no idea it was sooooo bad. It looked bad but sooo bad??? Please please try to persuade Ecoparque Mendoza to begin Tamy’s training. This must bring up a lot of feelings for you all as it does for us, gutted for her.

  23. REPLY
    Alejandra Enquin says

    Picha fue una gran luchadora una sabia elefanta con un alma iluminada y aguanto llegar al Santuario hasta ver a Guille segura entre la manada.Hoy esta presente sin cuerpo fisico pero su aura brilla en el Santuario y las protege a todas.🙏💌🐘Gracias Amorosa Pocha por tu valor tu fuerza y tu incondicionalidad para Guillermina.Sos Pochita de mi corazon un enorme ser de Luz.Gracias querida gracias por siempre❤️

  24. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman-Eaton says

    To think of the pain Pocha lived with obviously for decades just tears at my heart. The utter despair of captive elephants, and what they must endure because of their captivity by humans is unbelievable. PLEASE to all powers that be, please keep Guille and her sisters safe from any and all infections. 🐘🐘🐘🐘🐘🐘❤️

  25. REPLY
    Deb says

    I’d like to have a moment alone with whoever thought it was a good idea to put elephants in pits. The inhumane callousness, the cruelty & plain stupidity is obvious. Thank you EVERYONE at ESB for your love & dedication to love & care for these beauties. And for righting the wrongs Pocha & Guille endured. I know Pocha loved all of you & had comfort knowing Guille will live a beautiful life with all of you.

  26. REPLY
    Wim says

    Thank you for sharing this important news with us. Utterly brave of Pocha to fight for the last minute. Scary business concerning all in the sanctuary. Hope you’ll finally will get the right answers.

  27. REPLY
    Tracy says

    Thank you so much for everything you do.
    And keeping us informed every step of the way.

  28. REPLY
    María Ángeles Fernández says

    Muchísimas gracias Sara. Tienes una sensibilidad extraordinaria relatando este escrito. Pobre Pocha, pues es verdad que esos cuatro meses con vosotros en Brasil fue inmensamente feliz con su amada hija Guillermina. Estoy también sufriendo por la elefanta Lucy. Gracias, gracias, gracias. Que Dios bendiga al Global Sanctuary for Elephants Brazil.

  29. REPLY
    Liliana says

    Gracias por tan pormenorizado detalle de la dolencia de nuestra amada Pocha. Adhiero profundamente al párrafo donde aluden a la grandeza de la grandota como mamá: “se mantuvo fuerte hasta que supo que su hija viviría en libertad, momento en que partió tranquila”. Las pésimas condiciones que tuvo que soportar en el recinto mendocino (más allá de que era querida y mimada por sus cuidadores), indudablemente hicieron mella en su salud. Si a eso sumamos la profunda tristeza de sentirse esclavizada como el peor delincuente, no nos extrañemos del triste desenlace. ESO es lo que provocamos los “humanos” a los seres más puros, inocentes e indefensos. Somos patéticos. BASTA DE ZOOS!!!!

  30. REPLY
    Susy says

    Que tristeza tan grande..tan grande como la fuerza o las ganas de vivir que demostró mí Pocha bella. No sabemos si tuvo un sufrimiento o si solo la ayudó a seguir adelante ver el espacio abierto, la libertad y la presencia de la manada que las recibió en el Santuario. Solo Dios sabe todo lo que , tanto Pocha como Guille han vivido. Ruego para que Guille y las chicas estén bien. Que Tamy pueda llegar ahí .cómo Kenya también. Gracias Santuario por compartir este informe.

  31. REPLY
    Mollie Mangerich says

    Thank you Scott and Kat for providing us w/the results of Pocha’s necropsy. You explained these technical / scientific findings to us in a way we could understand. I agree with your statement that Pocha ensured her daughter’s integration with the other elephants were her priority…. and once she knew that Pocha was making positive relations and enjoying exploring the Sanctuary getting to know the wonderful caretakers, she felt it was time to release Pocha to her future at GSE. In closing, as I have tears rolling, I am so grateful to all GSE staff and their professional and political connections that support GSE as they work to bringing more elephants to this wonderous place we call “Global Sanctuary for Elephants Brazil”. I’m also so very grateful for the Friends of GSE as well. What a community we have – to support GSE in all efforts elephants.

  32. REPLY
    Susy says

    Coincido con alguien que escribió..No dejen de insistir en una revisión para los que han quedado en el Eco Parque Mendoza..y no bajen los brazos en el traslado hacia el Santuario de los que han quedado en cautiverio. No permitamos que el encierro siga llevandose seres tan bellos. Te amo Pocha..por siempre

  33. REPLY
    Alana says

    I think like Ramba who was also sick upon arrival at the sanctuary, they both found the freedom and Love to be at peace.

  34. REPLY
    Tracy H says

    Thank you so much for updating us all on our sweet dear Pocha! So sad to know she endured a life in a concrete pit then makes it to sanctuary only to die from a horrible disease she should have never contracted in the first place. My heart still breaks for her sweet daughter Guille and everyone at sanctuary. Can’t thank ESB enough for ALL that you do for these magnificent elephants.

  35. REPLY
    Charlotte Hansen says

    A tragic tale–she was surely thankful to be at sanctuary and seemed to know that Guille was going to be ok. She was a truly remarkable lady! Thank you for letting us know. And thank you for all your kind care of these best of God’s creatures!

  36. REPLY
    Bonnie says

    I know you all will figure out the right thing to do for the Elephant’s Sara do you know of any Elephants that have experienced snow

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      there have been many. it snows in TN where the elephant sanctuary is.

  37. REPLY
    Terry says

    I am very grateful for your detailed explanation of Pochas passing. Living in a hole is not living. How Pocha bore and raised a healthy daughter in itself is a miracle! Every aspect of Pocha’s journey with Guille, to sanctuary, is a miracle! I agree, Pocha let go after she knew she could. She knew the beautiful souls of sanctuary would look after Guille, teach her, and be mothers to her. I also think Pocha knew Guille could never have enough mothers in this world. Pocha kept her ” soul shine” right to the end. Thank you Pocha for your devotion, dedication, and undying Love for your beautiful girl and the friends you entrust with her. Your energy can be felt everywhere! Peace be with you.

  38. REPLY
    Lori says

    Thank you for sharing with us this information. I’m so sorry that she had to endure any illness or discomfort. She was such a beautiful and gentle soul. I would wonder if the years of stress from being in that awful environment exacerbated the condition. Stress causes all sorts of damage because of the chemicals released by the body.
    Thank you for giving her a few months of peace and happiness.

  39. REPLY
    Thyra says

    Thank you for the clear and detailed report. Again, the stoicism of elephants who have been subjected to the worst that life can dish out, leaves me in awe. This is hard reading but it should be required reading for anyone who says they “love elephants” and still supports their continued captivity for human benefit. Thank you and big hugs to all of Pocha’s human caregivers and elephant friends- and particularly Miss Guille.. <3

  40. REPLY
    Robin Vitulle says

    Thank you for sharing all of this. I know you all must be concerned to some degree and will do everything possible to protect and deeply care for the others. GSE is heaven on earth for rescued and deserving elephants. The sanctuary you have created to give elephants a better life couldn’t be dreamed of any better. You made it a reality and the elephants that have been lucky to come here live their best life as an elephant should. We are so grateful for all of you and the work you do. ♥️🐘♥️

  41. REPLY
    Tammy says

    Pocha was a beautiful strong elephant withstanding so much discomfort for her daughter Guille! So wish there were quicker methods to test and treat captive elephants before their illnesses gets to the point of no return eliminating unnecessary suffering… in peace sweet Pocha we love and miss you very much🙏🐘💞

  42. REPLY
    Philippe Vezina says

    It’s good to hear that the TB was not in Pocha’s lungs.
    Granted, it did the damage to Pocha that was irreversible elsewhere in her body, but not being in her lungs really helps the situation, as indicated in the necropsy report.
    It would be tough to establish a ‘Q’ yard to quarantine possible infection (like in Tennessee at TES from the poor girls who came from the Hawthorn Corporation) with the current herd.
    Thankfully it seems that may not be necessary.
    God Bless you all for what you do for all Elephants.

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      our situations are very different. the one study we shared was done at TES, and they found the spread was happening in the barn. that is an issue that thankfully, we do not have. but we will look at every option and continue to analyse as time goes on.

  43. REPLY
    Sherry says

    I am so sorry!!

  44. REPLY
    Marcia says

    In all due respect, please know that we will all be waiting anxiously for the test results for all other animals, human and elephant, involved. Thank you. Comment to Pam, yes, it does seem that Pocha may have intuitively held back from her proximity and participation with the other elephants, although she clearly showed her excitement. Great comment!

  45. REPLY
    Silvana says

    Querida Pocha, le abriste camino a tu hija, la cuidaste y acompañaste unos meses. En el alma me queda la tranquilidad de que pudiste ser finalmente libre. Seguro lo disfrutaste y eso vale oro. Vuela alto y cuida a toda la manada desde el cielo. Nunca te olvidaremos ♥

  46. REPLY
    Carole Kramer says

    Thank you so much for sharing this information, heartbreaking as it is. I am gutted to think of all that Pocha endured throughout her life. What a saintly creature she was. Her dedication to her daughter was so admirable, as was her endurance and fortitude suffering as she must surely have. Well done Pocha. Rest well now. We will never forget you and your supreme example of how to live with dignity and grace.

  47. REPLY
    Sandi says

    Thank you for this. It’s nice to know what happened to Pocha and I’m so happy that she had the time she did at Sanctuary. I disagree with the person that said, we human’s will never learn. We do learn and this is one of the reasons that Global Sanctuary for Elephants exists, to further that learning and help the elephants. You all do such great work and we appreciate you. Thanks to everyone there, Scott and Kat and the rest of the team.

  48. REPLY

    Porqué retiraron mi mje. Si no les gusta lo que expreso, bueno, mala suerte, Si todos piensan bien es raro, porque siempre se puede discrepar. Yo digo que Pocha aparentemente tenía muchos problemas internos, externos y que raro nadie lo notó. Eso les molesta, Pocha tuvo suerte de ir al refugio brasileño, pero su suerte terminó quién sabe porqué al poco tiempo Y observo tenía muchos problemas aparentemente.

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      i’m not sure what you’re referring to but it’s not strange for a wild animal to mask their illness for as long as possible, it is in their survival instinct. we said that we mentioned in the past that we would see photos of her looking unwell, but were told she was fine. we also said she was more picky with her food the last few days, but had never stopped eating. we were going to run blood tests, but now we know, with how far along her disease process was, there wouldn’t have been anything we could have done. yes, we can all have different opinions, but the scientific fact is, she died from a disease she acquired long before sanctuary, and even the response her body had to it, all happened before sanctuary. the independent pathology team confirms this.

  49. REPLY
    Maria Tereza Hungerbühler says

    Muito agradecida pela informação.
    Feliz que Guille e Tamy também farão o exame apropriado.
    Ao ler a causa da passagem de Mama Pocha ,imediatamente pensei em Tamy por ainda estar lá.
    Obrigada ao Santuário.
    Maria Tereza

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      yes, we are thinking of Tamy as well.

  50. REPLY
    Anne Marie Rodgers says

    Wow. Astonishing that she presented so few signs of severe disease until she probably just could not go on. What strength of will. Forever grateful that she got to Sanctuary and knew those final happy days, and most of all, knew her child would be loved and cared for.

  51. REPLY
    Claudia says

    Triste leerlo, y triste pensar por lo que padeció en su interior esta luchadora hermosa! Pocha, tu condición de Madre siempre ha sido maravillosa, creando protección, contención y nuevos vínculos entre Guillermina y las otras Elefantas del Santuario. Qué todo pueda superarse, qué ningún otro elefante pase por terrible dolor, y qué tampoco haya nadie comprometido con éstos síntomas. Qué sólo pase a ser un momento de sabor amargo, de estrujarce el corazón, y de surgir nuevos estudios y cuidados para prevalecer la Salud de todos las Elefantas /es y Personal al cuidado de ellos. Descansa en Paz Pochita Hermosa! 🙌❣️🌠🌈

  52. REPLY
    Magda says

    I am still crying after reading this part of the article “ Pocha’s illness is a reflection of the ability of elephants to mask discomfort, but it also reveals her tenacity to remain as healthy as she could for as long as possible. We wholeheartedly believe that she stayed strong until she knew her daughter could have a life of freedom, at which point she felt comfortable letting go. To this day, we are amazed to look back at photos taken just days before Pocha’s passing and find it incredible that she looked so brilliant with all that was going on internally. Elephants and their unfathomable resilience will never cease to amaze us.”

    Moms do everything for their kids. Guillermina had the best Mom ever.

    Thank you Sanctuary for the update.

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