Incredible, energizing, encouraging and humbling- when things in life come together just as they are supposed to, is it a remarkable feeling. To backtrack just a little, Global Sanctuary for Elephants visited Brazil in December of 2013 to explore more thoroughly the potential and possible limitations of developing a sanctuary for elephants in Brazil; a new international project dedicated to offering a progressive, holistic, expansive alternative for captive elephants from throughout South America.
After exploring several regions and specific properties, we left Brazil feeling confident not only that this was a viable option but also one that was grossly necessary. As things turned out, the properties we had explored were removed from our list for a variety of reasons but in the background our time here had put a chain of events into action. The wonderful network of a friend of a friend, a few phone calls, combined with the undeniable fate and the incredible generosity of a local land owner Mr. Leo (pronounced lay-oh) have lead us here, to Guarantã do Norte a small city at the Northern border of the state of Mato Grosso, Brazil.
Mr. Leo has lived in this region for many years and is one of the people responsible for helping establish Guarantã in the late 1960’s When talking to all of those that have had a hand in this process, they all seem to chuckle a little; they all immediately questioned and even doubted the idea, but very quickly realized how perfectly our desires, the needs of the elephants, and the gifts of this region could meld. Mr. Leo told us this week that he had been approached by others to use his land, but that he always knew that there would be a greater purpose for his property. Now, he has graciously offered it up to be the future home of Elephant Sanctuary Brazil! We can’t say enough about his kind heart and what his immeasurable gift means for elephants.
This remote region is simply amazing, here in Guarantã do Norte we are surrounded by farmlands and miles and miles of cattle farms and crops. Leaving here and driving north, the elevation increases as you enter into the Serra Do Cachimbo mountains; it is a gorgeous, lush and wild forest that crosses into the state of Para. This entire region is the transition from Amazon jungle to Savannah, known in Brazil as Cerrado, which comprises much of the central part of the country. This transitional biome is a mix of amazon forest near the rivers and streams, and amazon savannah with moderate trees and shrubs on the hilltops. Mr. Leo’s property in southern Para, a little more than an hour from Guarantã, is a combination of these, to the west is a stream that is engulfed by an incredible forest, to the east is amazon savannah; sandy soil but equally incredible for vastly different reasons. There are advantages and disadvantages to the full array and diverse aspects of this land.
This past week we were joined by our partners Junia Machado, CEO of Elephant Sanctuary Brazil and Petter Granli, co-founder of ElephantVoices for our arrival and introduction to this incredibly welcoming town and beautiful region of Brazil. We have all been truly amazed and further inspired by our experience. The four of us, along side Mr. Leo, explored his property on a day that will be remembered for some time to come; not only for the beauty of the property, but to see and experience how everyone on our team is thinking about the entirety of the project. In these situations it’s easy to get lost in the emotion, thinking about elephants finding peace and sanctuary, but we need to consider all of the elements of sanctuary, the short-term needs and long term survival. We explored access to the land, infrastructure needs, bridges, roads, and security. We walked for several kilometers, identified several types of resident animal footprints and asked Mr. Leo many, many questions. At the end of the day we shared very similar thoughts, we all believed that it can work but it’s not perfect. The next day, we met with key officials, all welcoming us with open arms, all anxious to help but fully aware and committed to the concept that this is all about the elephants; their needs come first and our commitment is for the long haul. Later in the afternoon we met with additional knowledgeable professionals, veterinarians, and agronomists to help us explore solutions to some of our concerns with particular focus on the sandy soil prominent in some of the land. And once again, we received many answers, not just a simple answer of “We can fix it,” but thorough and detailed discussions about an array of options. They asked for details about elephant behavior and environmental impact, eating habits and appropriate types of pasture grasses. Some in the US may question motivation for a rural community to help, but to us and anyone that talks to those involved, it is abundantly clear- they know that this important project will help put their town on the international map, but first and foremost, everyone knows- the elephants need this!
What’s next? Our board of directors of Global Sanctuary for Elephants, the board of Elephants Sanctuary Brazil and our partner ElephantVoices, are continuing to explore the attributes of the land. So many things are pointing in the right direction and we all want to start building sanctuary now, but we all recognize that in order to meet the long-term needs of the elephants, we must remain diligent and turn over unturned stones to explore every aspect.
This week, we will continue to examine“ development costs and options. Hopefully we’ll drive back north to walk the property again, viewing it with the added information from these past few days. There is no doubt that we could not have found a more receptive community. When combined with the undeniable generosity of Mr. Leo, a stunning property, and an ideal climate; it all looks quite promising. Stay tuned and keep sharing our posts and blogs to continue to expand our growing network of support; this is just the beginning.
Christelle saysJuly 8, 2014 at 2:46 pm
Elephants as our other members of the big five head safe havens or our Generation will be held accountable when they are lost forever to thep greed of despicable people poaching and illegally trading in our precious wildlife. Living in Africa it angers me to the extreme that there is not enough done….so what you are trying from your side is fantastic and the selfless work you do and the land donations are much appreciated. Thank You.
Heather saysJuly 9, 2014 at 6:38 pm
It is wonderful how many people are, not only concerned about preserving the biodiversity of the planet, but actually doing something about it! I am wondering what impacts the elephant sanctuary will have on, not only the local environment, but the surrounding environments. Will any natural Cerrado land be transformed to accommodate the sanctuary, or is the project only reusing farm land or other already converted land plots? How will the influx of nitrogen affect the surrounding ecosystems from run off? Most riparian vegetation has adapted to nitrogen poor soils and increase of nitrogen may change the forest structure. The Cerrado is home to the headwaters of three watersheds; one of which leads to the Amazon River and another to the Pantanal. Will the influx of nutrients from these large grazing mammals in any way alter these headwaters in a way that would alter the ecosystems that they support? Elephants are not native to Brazil or any of the Americas; how will they be controlled in a way that does not cause an invasive species threat? These marvelous creatures consume a lot of vegetation; will this come from the sanctuary and its providers or will they have access to surrounding vegetation? I want to donate and support this project. I see there are so many good things that can come from this; economic stimulation and protection of such a rare and wonderful species. However, I feel that my concerns are valid with regards to preserving native Brazilian wildlife and ecosystems and I would genuinely appreciate a response to my questions. I see that the Association Mata Ciliar is supporting this project. I worked with them at their site in Jundiai, and I know their values and goals. Their interest and support with the elephant sanctuary eases some of my concerns. Thank you for your response and for your drive in preserving species!!
Kat Blais saysJuly 11, 2014 at 9:20 pm
your concerns are not only valid, but have played a huge role in our decision making as to where to develop. one of the reasons that we were asked to come to this area was to help educate both adults and the youth in this area about caring for the land, the harsh impact of deforestation, and taking care and giving back to the planet, both animals and the land. before we even selected an area to develop, we met with a professor out of Sao Paulo University, Dr. Mauro Galetti, who studies the impact of mega fauna on land, and his specific interest is areas of cerrado. we discussed land in brazil that mimics land in africa and the common impact that would be had. his interest lies in the fact that many native trees (mostly large fruit trees) do not exist in the numbers they used to in Brasil because of the lack of mega fauna that would be able to digest the hard outer shell of their seeds, and pass them into the ground for growth. he is very supportive of the project because he believes that elephants can have a positive impact on bringing back the natural growth that has been replaced by exotic and introduced species. he will actually be doing a study on this impact by visiting the land before elephants are introduced, taking samples, counting trees and testing soil samples, then he will return to do the same, at 6 months, 1 year, and later dates.
What we saw in Tennessee, was that the elephants helped to revive the natural growth. the land that was used for the elephant sanctuary in tennessee was originally paper company land, covered with introduced pine trees. the elephants open up small paths between the trees, allowing for the growth of the natural hardwoods, that had been crowded out by the pines. 15 years after the sanctuary was started, native hardwood cover a majority of the property.
we are not using farm plots, but can expand into farm plots if necessary. part of us using this property is so that it is not devastated and made into farmland, like the surrounding properties. if you read our last e-newsletter, ( ) it goes into detail about the diversity of the property. the one end of the property is very much amazon cerrado, but the other side is more densely treed and the soil has more organic matter. we have met with local agronomists to discuss the land and the ensure that the land is managed in a way that will have minimal impact on the environment. our concern is not only for the elephants, but also for the beauty of the land. we have been assured that with a few minor adjustments, the property will remain intact and continue to flourish.
one of the main purposes of sanctuary is to allow elephants the most natural life we can offer-this includes their natural grazing habits. Asian elephants are more grazers, and African elephants are more browsers. Asian elephants will eat grasses, vines, and small branches, but do not usually eat bark or thicker branches, and since the females are lacking in tusks, they will not damage the trees-it is why they will be located on the more heavily forested side. their presence will barely be noticeable. the African elephants will be located on the amazon cerrado side, and will eat thicker branches than the asians and more trees in general. both will be supplemented with hay, grain, fruits and vegetables, both to balance out their diet, to give us an opportunity to check in on them and make sure they are ok, and to supplement their diets with necessary vitamins/minerals and other medicine they may require from a hard life in captivity. but, the majority of their diet will come from the environment.
elephant dung is not like that of cows and horses, their digestion is very poor, so the majority of their dung is still made up of undigested material and will not have as nigh of a level of nitrogen as many other animals. there also should not be any issues with runoff into the water- again, they are nothing like cattle. the elephants at sanctuary are not just being set free, they will be managed. they will be fenced in on the 3000 acre property and limited to this area- we are not releasing an invasive species into the area, their home range will be limited to the 3000 acres. as far as their interaction with other native species, through our experience in Tennessee, we found that they have no negative impact on native species and could be found with deer, fox, birds, and coyotes within 10 feet of them. because of their poor digestion, animals will come and pick through their dung.
please believe that we not only care for elephants, but the environment as a whole. one of the things that resonates with us about Mata Ciliar is not only that they are helping animals, but that they are working to improve the environment as well. it’s all pieces of the same puzzle, you can’t truly care for the animals without regard to the earth they live on. we are trying to make this project as sustainable as possible, while keeping it low impact, and supporting the local area with the labor and supplies that will be needed. i truly appreciate your questions, and hope that i have answered all of them. if you have more concerns, or would like to talk further, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Katie Orton saysJuly 16, 2014 at 11:41 pm
I am so happy to read this blog post after reading recent articles about what is happening to elephants in Thailand. I can’t wait to see sanctuary updates.
Brazil is the perfect place for one to exist. Elephants deserve a peaceful place to live, and it’s amazing to see people out there who truly care about their safety.
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