As this decade draws to a close, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect. So much has changed in ten years. Ten years ago, GSE wasn’t even a pipe dream; it wasn’t even a blip on the radar.
Ten years ago, we were living in rural Tennessee, and spending our days with a different elephant herd. If you told any of our team (from caregivers to supporters) ten years ago that this is where we would ring in 2020, they would’ve laughed. We all would’ve laughed. We didn’t see this path coming ten years ago; we couldn’t have. It was ElephantVoices and Miss Ramba who first put us on this path – even when we first started brainstorming how to help give Ramba the life she needed, it wasn’t with us, and it wasn’t here in Mato Grosso, Brazil.
The path that led us to today took ten years of serendipity, chance meetings, and strange coincidences. In the beginning, this sanctuary was a far-fetched dream at best. There were times our loved ones thought of gentle ways to break it to us that building a sanctuary in South America wasn’t going to happen. There were times we didn’t believe it would happen ourselves and wondered if everyone was right, if we were crazy for trying. There were times that things fell apart; there were times that we fell apart. Each time, though, something put us back on this path, many times it was Ramba.
Reflecting on the past ten years, we have had some unbelievable wins. We will never forget our first sunset on this property, welding the first stalls for the Asian barn (that our neighbor’s cows slept in), or getting on the plane to rescue Maia and Guida, unable to believe it was really, truly happening. And some significant backsteps along the way. We look back now and can laugh, but the journey started rough, with the original donated land and financing falling through within days of our arrival in Brazil. We remember moving from place to place (including the ‘House of Fish’) as our housing options disappeared. We remember someone delivering two fungi and flea riddled kittens to our door because they knew we missed our dogs (we still have and love Bodhi and Saffron.) We remember how hard it was to finally leave the region where the journey started, but knowing we were never going to find sanctuary there and we were running out of time.
We laugh about the property we first saw online that kept calling Scott back, and finally giving in to see if it could work (it did 😉 ). We recall meeting Cassia in a hotel to help with land negotiations after our original translator fell through. Her desire to help was as clear as everyone’s uncertainty about the ability to make the land purchase work, but in her, we found a forever ally. We remember nervously laughing when we moved onto the property and saw there were 100 chickens, 12 ducks, 2 dogs, 1 horse, and 2 humans who were all still living here. We look fondly back the walks Scott and I took, hand and hand, discovering nooks on the property that we could envision elephants exploring as we repeated to one another, ‘This property is beyond spectacular for elephants.’ We remember being nervous that we could pull this off and almost crying with relief as person after person began to step up to support this dream for elephants, making it all possible.
We will always remember Maia and Guida’s first night, where two elephants that had a terrible and aggressive relationship with each other put it all aside, chatting away overnight, ending up holding each other through the bars in the morning. Our marvel at seeing Guida, an elephant who swayed 99% of her day, engage with the world around her, and reconnect to life. Watching them grow, heal, and become the definition of a loving and supportive herd member. The mini-miracle of the hotel/zoo signing over Rana and her exuberance at having new friends. Then watching her emotional growth as she had to learn to accept that her desires weren’t always shared. We will never forget when we heard Ramba’s permits were finally approved (we asked to see them before we celebrated) and being able to share the news with Ecopolis and Caro and Consu. And then the joy of watching her embrace every inch of the sanctuary, act as if she had been here forever, become a best friend to Rana, and astound everyone involved in her rescue with how much she changed within mere days. Then we found out that years of work had paid off, and Lady would be calling Elephant Sanctuary Brazil home as well. There was a mix of joy and ‘holy cow’ as we realized how much the sanctuary was going to grow in the next two years. We are still now just getting to know our sweet little insecure girl but have already seen she is learning to trust, although she finds it difficult to open her heart. All in time. ❤️
We’ve also had some devastating losses – losing sweet Guida, losing grandma Ramba, losing our original sanctuary dogs, Maggie (16), and Goomba (14), losing Pelusa and Merry before they even made it to Sanctuary. We also had some losses that felt devastating at the time, but in retrospect weren’t. So many “perfect” properties that we almost bought to have the sales fall through at the last moment, having to replace one of Ramba’s caregivers (which brought us the blessing of Consu), and needing to rebuild the team here in Brazil, which gave us the fantastic folks whose hearts are all in and have made so much happen this past year.
We have gotten to know some of the most incredible people – the tireless activists of South America who have dedicated their lives to laying the groundwork that allows us to rescue each elephant we rescue, our incredible supporters (many of whom we know so well but have never met), and, of course, our team of employees and volunteers that make everything happen, keep us mostly stable, and bring laughter to our days.
As we look towards the next ten years, we know it too will have its ups and downs – we know we will shed tears of joy, tears of laughter, and tears of sorrow. We know we will get to meet many more of you in real life, and give you the hugs we’ve virtually sent for years.
We will always look back at our past with gratitude for its infinite blessings and sometimes with bewilderment for the crazy road it has been. But, it’s time to look forward to 2020. We already have four rescues in the works for 2020 – Mara, Pocha, Guillermina, and Kenya should all be coming home this year. Hopefully, we can all come together to bring Tamy home as well. We are excited to watch Lady become more comfortable with other elephants and get to know herself. We know Maia and Rana are both still on their paths of grief over their respective losses of 2019, but we know 2020 will bring them further healing and turning to other elephants for comfort, support, and new friendships. We are excited to see how Mara, Pocha, and Guillermina will fit into the existing herd. We are excited for our steel for the African habitat to arrive next week, and we are excited to have Kenya inaugurate the African habitat with star-struck eyes and joyous wonder.
It’s a bittersweet new year, and a bittersweet new decade dawning, but we wouldn’t trade anything we have. We hold in our hearts the understanding that everything happens for a reason, although not always easy to see at the moment, and we look to the future with open hearts and the smallest of smiles.
To close out this transformative decade we want to express our infinite gratitude to our sweet grandma for repeatedly pushing us forward and inspiring us to never turn back. Ramba, you have changed the hearts of many, you have opened a new world for elephants and trust that we will forever carry on in your honor.