Sara’s Diary: My Week At Sanctuary

Elephant Sanctuary Brazil never lets you forget you’re at sanctuary – from the smallest details to the largest moments. The roosters sound the alarm around 4:30 in the morning and they call back and forth to one another until you are wide awake. All of the bird songs are unfamiliar in a delightful way. The peace that comes with being here lets you truly hear them. At home, birds singing can sadly become ambient noise, but here it’s part of the whole package. 

The delightful and somewhat scary intimidating thing about sanctuary is just how small you can feel at times. I was able to spend some hours each day at the barn, using it as an office of sorts. I had a hard time working because every few minutes I would look up and see Pocha and Guillermina in the yard or hear them vocalizing. It’s a surreal feeling to be near them, and there’s no way to pretend it’s normal. It feels like magic. I was always trying to remain in the moment so that I could remember each day with as much detail as possible. Every small experience at the barn felt alternately larger than life – because I was watching elephants be elephants – and also intimate – because I was seeing a mother and daughter learn to live in a world they’re only just beginning to understand. 

One afternoon, Scott surprised me with a tour of the habitat, driving a 4-wheeler over roads and streams I’d only heard of and trees I’ve only described: Middle Road, the “middle of nowhere,” Pequi, and the Lollipop Tree. I was able to see the different yards and finally comprehend the size of the sanctuary in a way that can’t be visualized on a map. We ended up at a fence line in Yard 4, where Mara, Rana, and Bambi were eating. I learned at that moment my role at sanctuary would be one of silent observer – making sure my presence was felt by the elephants as little as possible. We talk often about making sanctuary as close to a natural home for elephants as we can and, as much as I wanted to walk close to these individuals I felt I knew, the truth is that they wouldn’t know me in return; I’d just be an unnecessary distraction from their everyday lives. But seeing their faces, their eyes, their bodies – even from afar – was enough to give me a connection I was so deeply seeking.

The next morning, I was surprised again with a special trip to see Lady and watch some of her foot treatments. Lady is an elephant that I feel a strong connection to. Sheepishly, I admit that she is my favorite. I see her struggles and I relate (in my human way) to her health difficulties; something inside of me finds kinship in her need for deep connection with people. I found myself holding my breath as she walked near and my instincts told me to put my camera away and allow myself to experience the moment. Watching her treatment felt intimate and I knew I owed it to her to be present in my body and let my mind relax and focus only on what was at hand. Scott cut up a watermelon to feed Lady and gave me a slice. My tears mixed with the sugary watermelon juice and they ran down my chin and onto my clothes. It wasn’t the first time I’d cried and it wouldn’t be the last. 

Each day I found the simplest of joys to relish. There was always a home cooked lunch on the stove and some foods I’d never tried. Desperate not to fall off and embarrass myself, I learned how to balance myself on the back of a 4-wheeler. I watched giant red ants carry pieces of leaves and hummingbirds hover near, seeming to have little fear of human or elephant. Smiling dogs chased the 4-wheelers, dodging into and out of the pathway with the agility of (tiny) racehorses. There were other moments in my trip that I cannot describe and so I must hold them in confidence with my own heart. Some of the views will never leave me and the shades of the sunsets challenge the range of the color wheel. The night sky revealed mysteries to me that I thought were unknown. 

As I mentioned, the experience of sanctuary is a mixture of moments small and large. Jorgie the goat, who ate my sleeve, is a part of the experience; Maia slowly chewing on grass holds its essence; the people who care for the animals and manage the daily tasks smiled at me as we communicated using hand signals – they remain in my memory. But, mostly, I recall the majesty of the sun setting behind Rana as she ate a flake of hay: a moment both small and large. Those who live and work here will never get to see these things for the first time again. That is my great blessing. 

Photo of Rana


  1. REPLY
    Patricia says

    This is WONDERFUL!!! Wow! Thank you,

  2. REPLY
    Adriana says

    Thank you Sara for your deep and sensitive post! We can now understand better how it is to be there.

  3. REPLY
    Tessa Dowell says

    This is so beautiful, Sara. Thank you for sharing your experiences and bringing us with you through your lovely words ❤️

  4. REPLY
    Wim says

    Your diary-story makes life at the sanctuary vividly tangible. Very beautiful description of living between awesome creatures trying to return to earth.

  5. REPLY
    Nancy HartGold says

    Beautifully written, thanks for sharing

  6. REPLY
    Katie Howard says

    Sara! What a beautiful, intimate post. Thank you so much!

  7. REPLY
    Angie nachbaur says

    Sara, your diary entry left me speechless. You captured the very essence the Sanctuary. I weep just reading your emotions put to paper. Thank you , with love from Angie in Ontario Canada xx

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    Christine says


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    Pam says

    What a wonderful experience, and description. Thank you, Sara, for this personal perspective! Such a gift, to be able to visit the Sanctuary in person … reading your account helps us get a stronger feeling for the place and feel a deeper connection as well. Much gratitude!

  10. REPLY
    Alejandra Enquin says

    Cuanta emocion .caen copiosas lagrimas de mi ojos y mi alma esta en flor.Gracias por este relato tan conmovedor🙌🌱💖🌱🐘💯❤️

  11. REPLY
    June Ross says

    Wonderful write up Sara!
    I felt you being there!

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    Patricia says

    What a beautiful post Sara, you made me feel as if I was there with you experiencing the magic of Sanctuary. I relate so much to your comments about Lady, also my special girl, as someone with health issues and daily struggles she is my spirit Ellie, wanting connection and and people who will listen and understand her needs, and her sweet nature and secret smiles.
    Thankyou so much this must have been one of the best weeks of your life, hope your memories last forever.

  13. REPLY
    Julie says

    Thank you, Sara, for experiencing this wonder for us all.

  14. REPLY
    Sara says

    Thanks to all of you for your kind words. I hope I was able to bring at least a small piece of this magical place to you. -Sara

  15. REPLY
    Deb says

    I’ve compared sanctuary to Heaven many times in my posts. And your eloquent writing described just that💕. How fortunate you are to experience such real magic !
    I loved reading it.

  16. REPLY
    Guzzwell Jane says

    Oh, my….!
    Thank you for giving us a glimpse into your amazing experience. I know I, too, would shed a few tears as I am now. How is it that these animals create such an effect on so many people across the globe? 🤔

  17. REPLY
    Grace says

    Beautiful story. I cried as i saw it through your eyes. Can’t wait to hear more.

  18. REPLY
    Zoi Flores says

    I feel like reading a personal diary where the most beautiful feeling have been passed from the heart to the paper, my tears are falling too as I read these emotions. 💖 May you continue enjoying the beauty of sanctuary.

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    elaine richard says


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    Olga Melo says

    Sara, thank you🙏. Elephant’s are magnificent. I was emotional reading your post. It brings us much closer to GSE. 💕

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    Alana says

    Sara, you fit so perfectly at the sanctuary, beautiful vibes!

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Thank you for the lovely words!

  22. REPLY
    Irene says

    Thank you for sharing! You are truly fortunate to be able to be there in all the habitats beauty! 👍🏻🤗🐘

  23. REPLY
    Carol Durham says

    Thank for sharing your vision in such a beautiful way. I have enjoyed all of your posts! Can you tell us a little about yourself.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Thanks so much! I’m an employee here in the states and I write and edit much of the content here, with the help of Kat, Scott, and a few others. It is wonderful to know you enjoy the posts. Please keep reading!

  24. REPLY
    Carolyn Stearns says

    A delicate balance of seeing and not being seen. Your writing brings these moments to life for us all. Thank you.

  25. REPLY
    Sherry says

    God has blest you!!!🐘🍉😂🌺❤️🌞⭐️

  26. REPLY
    Beji says

    Just magical…

  27. REPLY
    Sandi says

    So beautifully written and I imagine that a lot of us would have tears in our eyes, just being around the elephants and being at the sanctuary, it sounds so beautiful. So glad you had that experience. Thank you for sharing it with us.

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  29. REPLY
    Rachel says

    What a lovely post Sara. You transferred me next to you, seeing what you were seeing and feeling what you were feeling. I’m an easy crier – sweet commercials, family love, pet stories, and on the other spectrum, terrible things that go on, all of it makes me either shed soft tears with gratefulness and joy…or hot / angry tears from a broken heart for those suffering. I appreciate you girl!💝

  30. REPLY
    Nancy Shaw says


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    Angela Bellatti says

    Que relato lindo e emocionante. Chorei junto com Sara e a melancia. Esse lugar certamente é mágico. Feliz dos que podem conhecer e desfrutar da companhia dessas meninas. Qdo vejo Pocha e Guile encantadas com as novidades do dia a dia, penso com tristeza em Tammy que ficou pra trás…e em tantos outros seres que esperam pela liberdade que nós humanos lhes roubamos. Deus abençoe cada um de vocês que têm o privilégio de trabalhar em prol da causa animal. Vocês são especiais e foram escolhidos pelo universo pra essa missão ❤️

  32. REPLY
    Rocío says

    I just wanted to say: what a wonderful post!
    I found the sanctuary’s blog almost by chance, some time before Pocha and Guillermina moved. The work you guys to, and your daily stories, are incredible… It’s as if I’m living there. If I had the chance to volunteer for a couple of months, I would apply 🙂
    Thank you very very much.

  33. REPLY
    Felicia says

    I can only imagine trying to put words to paper, to help the reader feel what you felt and were able to visualize. My dream is to visit this place one day and it sounds as magical as I have it in my mind! Thank you for sharing!

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