Sanctuary Memories: Daring to Forgive

Today, as part of our Sanctuary Memories series, Kat reflects back a bit to the early days of Elephant Sanctuary Brazil, to a moment signifying the power of forgiveness. 

As so many of us know, Maia and Guida were inseparable souls here at the sanctuary, an accomplishment made even more miraculous by the fact that there was decades of aggression between them, particularly from Maia’s end. That relationship began to shift here almost immediately, even though there were a few brief moments of posturing for dominance in the early days. Even so, there were never any physical altercations at the sanctuary, as there had been in their past. 

Both Maia and Guida were excellent at napping, particularly after breakfast. (Maia is still known to get extra sleepy after a meal.) One morning, not too long after their arrival, the two were going along with their morning routine – eating, hanging out by the itchy-scratchy tree, standing next to the mud wallow – when Guida decided to lie down for a little snooze. After she lay down, Maia walked up behind her and stood next to her. She then decided to instead stand over Guida as she slept, which is a sign of being protective and showing affection. You can imagine that it’s not easy for an elephant to stand over another elephant. The process involved Maia placing her front legs just so over Guida’s back legs, then sort-of scooting up toward Guida’s belly. The two of them stayed in that position for about half an hour. 

This action “was a statement about both of them and how quickly they were learning to trust and forgive,” Kat said. “Generally, Maia was the elephant who knocked Guida down in the past, and would sometimes hit her when she was down. So, by lying down that way and allowing Maia to stand over her, Guida was putting herself in a really vulnerable position.” If Guida decided to stand, Maia could prevent that from happening if she wanted to. This 30-minute nap spoke volumes about the level of trust Guida had already developed in Maia and how she was willing to be exposed, both physically and emotionally.

As for Maia, we as caregivers saw that she intrinsically knew what she was “supposed to do” as an elephant, and that she had built up such a level of affection for Guida that she would rather stand watch over her than take a nap herself. For Maia, that would be a big sacrifice. 

Kat remembers, “We stood there watching for a long time, making sure not to disturb them. And just being in awe of how quickly they were willing to erase 40 years of history and give each other the opportunity to move on, almost seamlessly, from such a dark past.” Each elephant has something to teach us – about healing, about listening, about forgiveness, and so many other things. This small moment encapsulated so many of those lessons all in one and will resonate with us always.


  1. REPLY
    Shannon says

    The beauty of this! Happy tears.

  2. REPLY
    John says

    What a wonderful post. It’s truly amazing and almost beyond understanding from my human perspective. Thank you for sharing it.

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    Beji says

    If only we humans could learn from this behavior….

  4. REPLY
    Melinda says


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    Charlotte Hansen says

    I hadn’t realized that Maia and Guida came at the same time, or that the impact of Guida’s death must have been huge for Maia! I discovered GSE around when Ramba was rescued. Must read the earlier histories! Thank you for this beautiful lesson in forgiveness!

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Maia and Guida had one of the closest relationships we’ve witnessed. It was truly special. Elephants are excellent teachers.

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    Debbie Sides says

    So wonderful how they bonded and trusted each other. Sanctuary heals.

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    Tracy ( says

    This is just so beautiful. We could all learn so much from these fantastic ladies.
    Love them all and miss the ones that have past on to greener pastures.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      We miss them, too, but are honored to have shared the time we had with them.

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    Carol says

    This kind of sensitivity on the part of both the elephant as well as the caretaker, bring me to tears of love and respect. Thank you for your adept phrasing and picture-painting. We are there in that precious moment. 💝💝

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    Deb says

    That’s just beautiful !

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    Tammy says

    What a touching story and one I will never forget. It brings tears to your eyes knowing the bond those two shared even more so how it came to be and explains why she struggles so after Guida passed i knew they were really close but didnt know the extent of their past. Then shockingly Ramba passed such a short time after arriving at the sanctuary sadly another loss for Maia. Its comforting that they have their sanctuary family both human and elesisters to help get them through troubled times. It’s funny that Elephants have a better grasp of what is truly important and what it really means to be there for each other to forgive to trust to love to be there unconditionally no matter what gotta love that gotta love them…💞🐘🐘🐘🐘🐘 💞

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      What a wonderful sentiment. Thank you for sharing.

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    Wim says

    Big souls keep on giving. They always walk a beautiful road. Thank you for this amazing encounter. 🙏🐘❤️

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    Christine J Strickling says

    Wow. Just wow. They are amazing beings.

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    Katharine Odell says

    I hadn’t realized that Maia and Guida had known each other for apparently decades. Where, and in what capacity, were they together? and do you have an estimate of the number of years they were together?

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Both ladies were circus elephants and it’s not uncommon for circus trainers to encourage acrimony between elephants, to keep them from bonding. That makes them easier to control. When their circus closed, they went to live at the home of the circus’ former lawyer – which was supposed to be a very temporary situation. Unfortunately, it lasted longer than was intended. Here is a bit more about their relationship:

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    Katie Howard says

    Ah, Maia & Guida. ❤️

    Their volatile history and then their complete surrender to each other at Sanctuary – well, is their a truer love story?

    I have often wondered if Maia’s reluctance to join the others, has less to do with who they ARE and just the plain simple fact that they AREN’T Guida. I’m sure she still misses Guida. It seemed that she and Rana were bonding well, after a time, but then Bambi came with her energy and Mara so badly needed Rana…it’s a continuing evolution of course. I’m encouraged by Maia “hanging out” near the other ladies more lately…and even Lady has been watching from closer, often!
    It is so exciting to watch such a slow-moving novella! 😁
    Each one has such a distinct personality and the “meshing” process is fascinating! Thank you, as always, for giving them this opportunity! 🥰

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      It is all a process. We’ll never know for sure if or how Guida’s death impacted Maia’s approach to being a herd mate. Even so, we are each lucky if we find our one true love and we are honored we were able to witness a relationship as deep as theirs.

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    JoAnn Merriman-Eaton says

    I always read the many posts about the girls, enjoy and learn from each one. This post really touched my heart for many reasons. The simple act of protection from Maia with Guida just made my heart swell up with happiness and love for both of them. Thinking of Guida and how this must have made her feel knowing Maia was protecting her this way, and the protective feelings of love for Guida that Maia must have felt from her very soul. We certainly can understand how traumatized Maia was at the loss of Guida as we all were. Thank you SO much for the post. I appreciate and respect GSE for your transparency, expertise and nurturing of these beautiful souls.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Thank you, JoAnn.

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