As part of our ongoing Sanctuary Memory series, Kat shares some of her experience with the first time she met Maia. Maia and Guida were kept on a farm in Brazil after being confiscated from a circus where they had been for many years. Because there was nowhere for the two of them to go once the circus was not able to use them, they moved them to a farm owned by the lawyer for the circus, where they were kept in a small yard, surrounded by hotwire that also divided the two of them. Both were chained and only had enough space to take about 3 to 4 steps in any direction. Kat remembers, “There were no shade trees, no grass, and a lot of black, disgusting mud that an elephant should not be standing in for 24-hours a day.”
Both at the circus and the farm, Maia was considered the “bad” elephant and Guida the “good” elephant. In fact Maia was double chained because she was able to break free from a single chain. When off of her chains, Maia would sometimes walk through the hot wire fence and take Guida’s food, which Guida did nothing to stop. She’d also hurt people – and Guida – at the facility in the past. “Maia wasn’t the favorite and they made things much worse by walking right up to Guida to pet her and talk sweetly to her, while ignoring Maia,” Kat says. No one would walk near Maia; they put her food out at a distance and that was essentially the extent of the contact she had with others.
Although not really close to her, “As soon as I started to walk toward Maia, she stiffened up her body, stopped swaying, and got really still and really intense,” says Kat. “She seemed worried about what I was going to do, so I moved up the hill and gave her some space.” After about an hour, Kat got a little closer, tried to get a look at Maia’s feet, and took some photos. “Part of our job when we go is to understand what it fully is that we are dealing with,” Kat says, “and that is on an emotional and physical level – the whole package.”
Kat remembers pulling out a granola bar for lunch and Maia being immediately interested (which is not surprising knowing what we now know about Maia’s love for food). This was the one time that Kat directly approached Maia. “I ate half and then walked up to the hotwire fence and stuck my hand through to offer Maia the other half, which she gladly took.” The longer the team was at the farm, the more relaxed Maia got in their presence. But she still had a tough and protective edge to her, assuming it was always a possibility that people were going to harm her. “She wanted to make sure that she was ready and that she had the chance to hurt you before you hurt her,” Kat said.
“Part of these first meetings we have with the elephants is introducing the idea of sanctuary to them,” explains Kat. “We gave her her space and talked to her a little bit. We had no actual physical contact with her. But since we signed the custody papers that morning, we walked away knowing that we’d be able to bring them to sanctuary. We backed up, gave them space and tried to show respect by listening to them and changing our behavior as a result.” The team left by telling the girls that the next time they saw each other, the elephants would be on their way to a new life and a new future.
Photo of Maia in her enclosure at the farm