Sanctuary Memories: Kat’s First Meeting With Maia

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


  1. REPLY
    Pam says

    The contrast between Maia in captivity and Maia in Sanctuary is profound. The abuse she suffered, that caused all that defensiveness, is now blessedly in the past, and the path of continued healing and joy lies ahead. Thank you, ESB, Scott, Kat, and all who truly see and care about these magnificent beings.

  2. REPLY
    Nancy says

    OMG !!!!

    Thank You for Global Sanctuary for Elephants !

  3. REPLY
    Rachel says

    Heartbreaking picture and life before sanctuary. Knowing the changes that occurred after being at sanctuary – and the difference sanctuary made to Maia and Guida’s relationship, is the balm that softens the blow, But my heart still aches for all the captured elephants that are still enduring a life of suffering…

  4. REPLY
    Deb says

    Oh these stories break my heart💔. I am so grateful for all of you & how you’ve healed these ladies lives! The satisfaction you feel from their love & respect must be overwhelming! I love you guys💕

  5. REPLY
    Alejandra Enquin says

    Que tristeza inmensa verla encadenada y tan angustiada pobrecita nuestra Maia .Gracias a Kat presintio que algo bueno podia pasarle,una esperanza habia llegado para Guida y Maia.Se habian encontrado con un ser de Luz🙏🥰💕🐘🐘💕

  6. REPLY
    Wim says

    Painful and saddening story. What a horrible load to carry. Quite remarkable how Maia has bounced back. Luckily you crossed paths.

  7. REPLY
    Charlotte Hansen says

    Incredibly sad to think of her there like that! Each of our beautiful ladies has such a tragic past, it boggles the mind! I’m so grateful that you’re there to save them out of all this, one by one (and sometimes by two!).

  8. REPLY
    Julie says

    Thank you so much for this post. I was thinking a little too much about myself this morning and needed this reminder of what these Ellies have gone through. I love you, Maia, and all of ESB!

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      they are always good for a little perspective and a lot of inspiration. ❤️

  9. REPLY
    Susan says

    It is so hard looking back at older pictures of all our dear girls, but it also brings home just how much good Sanctuary has done and continues to do to provide them with Sanctuary. It is gut wrenching to think about the unnecessary suffering that has gone on and that continues for so many of these beautiful beings. I am eternally grateful to ESB and all who dedicate their time and their lives to help these amazing gentle giants. Thank you, Kat, for sharing your thoughts on Maia. All the girls have a story to tell and it is so great to get insights on their journeys. Love and hugs ❤️🐘❤️🐘❤️

  10. REPLY
    Melinda says

    This is both heartbreaking and heartwarming. I am ashamed to be part of a species who could do such harm to a sentient and loving species. But I am proud to be part of the same species who rescues victims from the same horrendous abuse, and bring these wonderful beings back to wholeness. Thank you so much Kat and all others working within GSE.

  11. REPLY
    Carey says

    That is so moving. My goodness. That all these beings aren’t stark staring mad is a wonder in itself. Great work Kat, so so glad Maia got to spend time with Guida as a true friend in a space where she could be her loveable self. Seeing where they came from helps to understand them more since being at GSE. Hasn’t Maia had a journey and a half?

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