On September 1st, I travelled to Chile to check in on Ramba and ensure a smooth transition between her and her new caregiver. From here in Brazil, where we are working to create Elephant Sanctuary Brazil, we keep in contact with Ramba’s caregivers daily, and receive photo updates along with daily logs, but nothing replaces being able to see her in person; to observe and assess the many nuances of her behavior. It was also beneficial to help increase her new caregiver’s comfort, to introduce her to Ramba, along with the not so ordinary particulars of Ramba’s temporary home.
For us, caregivers play an integral role in the well-being of the elephants we care for. Some may think they are simply poop shovelers (and we do a lot of that,) but the care staff are the only ones there for the elephants- every day. When we hire caregivers, we always let them know that they have to be willing to make a long-term commitment, we all have to step outside of our needs and be willing to put the elephants first. Many captive elephants have been in abusive situations for decades, it can take a long time for them to build up a trusting relationship with a human being. Elephant caregivers have to learn and honor all of the subtleties in an elephant’s life. To know what behaviors indicate early signs of illness, when they need to step up to offer emotional support and when to offer them space to find their own path. As elephants recover all of these elements constantly shift while the elephants learn to trust in themselves and others. Elephants who have been at sanctuary for years can still sometimes struggle to accept new individuals because of the depth of fear and trauma that evolved over decades of abuse
Ramba has been in her temporary home for more than three years now, and in that time she has had a few caregivers, several of which had very little elephant experience (it is just not a skill you find in Chile). When we learned that her caregiver Carolina was not going to be able to stay, we called on Lauren. She is someone who Scott and I helped to train at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee and she’s someone that we knew would be a wonderful presence for Ramba. Not only does she know how to carry out activities that are needed to maintain Ramba’s health, but she also fully grasps the importance of respecting an elephant’s entire being and what that means for their healing. We were thrilled when she said she would be willing to travel to Chile to look after our precious girl.
Ramba is easy and she takes everything in stride, but we knew that it would help make the change just a little easier for Ramba and Lauren for one of us to be there. It’s never an easy choice when only one of us is needed to go check on elephants, but this time, I was the one lucky enough to travel to Chile to be familiar face for Ramba. Fortunately we’ve played a positive role for Ramba’s life. We were there when she was rescued from the circus and we went back a couple of years later to check on Ramba’s declining condition at the end of 2013. Both times, although the visits lasted only a few weeks, they brought positive change to Ramba’s life and a return of her radiant and cheeky smile.
Ramba is incredibly intelligent and very curious but still cautious with new people, Initially she was a little guarded, but she was in good health and spirits. There was no noticeable weight loss (as there was the winter before last) and no visible signs of progression of degenerative processes. Both Lauren and I arrived packed with goodies from the US, so we could start her on some additional supplements and begin the training process for foot soaks. Lauren did get stuck momentarily in customs with her giant footsoak bucket and duffel bag of dried herbs. With a little patience and some confusion from the customs officials not knowing how to address herbs for elephant foot soaks, everything eventually made it through.
Footsoaks are going to be started on Ramba due to that one nail we have always had slight worries about. It was the nail that had a small amount of pus at the cuticle when she was rescued, and since has had some occasional swelling. Knowing that elephants can have very deep infections, that don’t respond to oral antibiotics, and can have a hard time breaking through the surface- we decided to try soaks. In the months leading up to the trip, I spoke with several veterinarians, equine specialists and farriers (all who donated their time and services) to come up with several different plans of action. All revolving around softening the skin, drawing out infection and using both anti-bacterials and anti-fungals to treat the foot. This is not a new worry or concern, but her having a caregiver with more training background, allows for this new option in her care regimen.
We also added some anti-inflammatory supplements to her diet. Again, no new developments, but we know from experience that all elephants suffer some degree of arthritis/degenerative issue/inflammation from their lives in captivity. The variety and specificity of these supplements that we desire does not exist in Chile, so we were happy to bring in exactly what we were looking for, from the US. With Ramba’s compromised kidneys, it’s imperative to be very specific with what goes into her body.
My visit with Ramba was short but also very sweet. We had a few really beautiful days, followed by a few not so beautiful rainy and cold days. Ramba did spend the majority of those days in her barn, but since they alternated with nice days, and she was receiving a lot of specialized attention, she did really well with not getting too bored in her small space. Her grass is just beginning to grow, and for her, it’s the most exciting thing that could happen. Ramba is an elephant who has turned down treats for grazing. During the winter months, grass was cut for her from other properties, but being able to graze on her own is what brings her the most joy.
It’s amazing that no matter how long you work with elephants, there is still such enjoyable peace at sitting for lengths of time watching them just graze. It’s not super exciting, but it’s beautiful to watch. Ramba isn’t the type of elephant who is super nosey when you are in her outside space. She enjoys your company, but will go about her business and do her own thing. So I was able to sit at the back of her enclosure for a couple of hours, taking pictures, while she grazed, drank and just was.
At the end of the 2 weeks, everyone was settling in to each other. Ramba was starting to relax more with Lauren and Consuelo was starting to become more comfortable with the changes to her routine as well. With warm weather starting to emerge, everyone will relax even more. It is always hard to walk away from an elephant, but in order to give her what she truly needs, which is a home that will provide her with space and companionship, it was necessary to return to Brazil and get back to working on the creation of Elephant Sanctuary Brazil. Having someone we’ve known for years, and knowing their philosophy on elephants also made it much easier. We know Ramba is in great hands. And hopefully, if supporters rally together, Lauren will be acclimating Ramba to a travel trailer, to come to Brazil, in the next few months.