As part of our ongoing Sanctuary Memory series, Scott shares his thoughts on the first time he met Rana. In 2018, Rana was living at a combination zoo/hotel/waterpark on the Brazilian coast. The property had recently been sold and, though the owners were phasing out the zoo portion of the facility, they sought out a place where Rana could have a better life. Her enclosure was on top of a hill in a field and had a truly spectacular view, but there was little interaction between Rana and anyone or anything else. “One of the most striking things about her was how completely isolated she was,” Scott remembers. “She’s perhaps the most isolated elephant I’ve ever seen and, with that, also the most starved for engagement.”
Rana’s enclosure was less than ideal: there was a short fence made from metal posts about two inches in diameter, wrapped with 2 – 3 strands of electrified cable. Some posts were leaning over or bent out of the ground. The site was open and anyone could walk up – though it was rare for anyone to do so. “And standing there was Miss Rana, as beautiful as she’s ever been. She was just starving for attention, starving for somebody to say hello. She was immediately interactive and immediately engaging,” says Scott.
We were attempting to evaluate the state of her leg, but had difficulties because her yard was so pitted from Rana walking on saturated ground, we couldn’t gauge how bad the leg was. There was also a copious amount of manure around, pushed into piles in the corners. The hotel had built Rana a concrete block structure for when she wanted to be inside, but several walls had collapsed and the roof had halfway fallen in. We don’t know if Rana destroyed it out of boredom or frustration, or if it just eroded away from environmental factors. Scott said, “She would go into the remaining part of the structure most nights. We actually went to check on her a couple of nights and she would go hide in her barn. We never really understood why, because it was open to the outside and didn’t offer a lot of shelter or protection. It’s possible that she felt so exposed that she just had nowhere to go where she felt any measure of protection.”
It was during those first days that we learned of what we now call Rana’s “land shark” tendencies. When people were outside of her fenced area, she would follow them to see if they had any snacks for her. She would also throw things at people to get their attention, which almost always meant that she wanted more food; her keepers would often give her what she wanted, which was a reinforcement of undesired behavior. Unfortunately, she had no real form of medical care; the veterinarian there adored her and was enthusiastic, but had limited knowledge of elephant medicine – not even enough to know what questions to ask. Rana’s keepers sometimes feared her, but were sincere about how much appreciation they had for her; still, they rarely interacted with her.
Even from those earliest moments, in a less-than-ideal living situation, Rana still had her cuteness; she had her gorgeous skin from day one and was truly stunning. When Rana was given positive attention, she began to flourish. By the time our team returned to set up the transport container, she entered perhaps more quickly than any other elephant we’ve relocated. “As soon as we could possibly open up the door, she came right in,” Scott related. “I don’t think she hesitated at all to go all the way in, and within a day we were closing the crate. She was very engaging, very observant and inquisitive. But that makes sense considering how starved she was for interaction.” Today, Rana is in charge of how much time she wants to spend with others and, though she enjoys time to herself, clearly appreciates the relationships she has with her sister elephants and human caregivers.
Photo of Rana at the hotel zoo, before her move to ESB