Senhor Nelson – Tribute to a Generous Man

When we first began the process of searching for land in South America that was appropriate for elephants, but also free from excess bureaucratic restrictions, we considered many options. A number of things come into play when you are making a decision as important as creating a new home for rescued elephants: location, terrain, weather, community, cost, and so much more. There were days when it seemed there were more setbacks than steps forward. When we finally were led to the state of Mato Grosso, we saw the potential for a real home but, of course, nothing comes easily. There were several individuals that played essential roles in helping Elephant Sanctuary Brazil come into being, including the generous Senhor Nelson, who we honor here today.

Mato Grosso is an incredibly diverse state, but has been unfortunately pillaged for agriculture and vast swaths of Amazon forest in the north were leveled. When we arrived, the mayor of a city to the north welcomed the sanctuary project with open arms and attempted to procure free land. One generous land owner wanted to donate close to 2,300 acres of land, but this land was undocumented (meaning there was no official deed), making it a high-risk choice for us. Due to the beauty of the Mato Grosso region, its location at the southern end of the Amazon forest, and the community support, we continued for several months in search of property to purchase. We found several locations that would work, but each one ultimately presented us with issues that would take great time and effort to resolve.  

Our expanded search led us to the municipality of Chapada dos Guimaraes toward the southern part of the state, just a couple of hours from the state capital and in the “cerrado” biome. With a higher altitude, cooler temperatures, an abundance of nature, springs and waterfalls, this region not only offered what the elephants would need, but also more legal stability. One land in particular always jumped off the computer screen. The photos were breathtaking. Two visits to this property made us realize that this was it – this was the perfect farm to convert to Elephant Sanctuary Brazil.

But, there were problems. The 600 hectares we were considering had a 48-hectare parcel of land that nearly split the property in two – and it was owned by a separate individual. On the back side of the property was another 250 hectares, with yet another owner, which required access through the sanctuary to arrive at their land. It was a geographical puzzle. And, then there was the price. Here in Brazil, it is virtually impossible for nonprofit organizations to get bank loans and, with incredibly high interest rates, purchase options were limited. Many land acquisitions are private sales, often requiring 50% payment of the land value up front and the rest within 18 months. Also, not an option for a young nonprofit organization.

Fortunately and nothing short of a miracle, the owner of the property had a heart of gold.  Senhor Nelson listened to our dream, he learned of Ramba, Maia, Guida, and several other elephants in need, and he vowed to help us make this work. Sr. Nelson took it upon himself to talk three additional land owners – the 48 hectares in the middle, the 250 hectares in the back, and yet another beneficial 250 hectares – to sell their lands to him, and then he sold the entire 1,100 hectares to the sanctuary. While incredible, this increased exponentially the financial burden on the sanctuary. Once again, Sr. Nelson offered to help. 

Through all of this, we would sit across the table from one another, each of us knowing that we were taking a huge leap of faith, each of us united in the desire to make it happen, and each of us with doubts if it could really work. As we know, it did work and, thanks to the trust Sr. Nelson had in our work and in the dream of giving sanctuary to elephants, this perfect location is now their forever home. Sr. Nelson and his family have always been there for the sanctuary. They were here to celebrate the first arrivals and they opened many doors with friends and colleagues throughout the region.   

A few days ago, we learned the very difficult news that Sr. Nelson passed away. He was a pillar for his family, and for his community. He was a person of honor and someone you could always count on. Our hearts are heavy with the sadness of this beautiful spirit leaving this world far too soon. Our love pours out to his family, who we know are suffering and reeling from their loss. And we are filled with gratitude at having the great fortune of knowing this kind soul.

This unique and beautiful land became a sanctuary entirely because of the goodness of Sr. Nelson. We are forever grateful.  

– Scott

Photo of Mara from her early days at sanctuary, surrounded by the beautiful home that Sr. Nelson helped us give to her.


  1. REPLY
    Ellen Bollinger says

    Rest in Peace

  2. REPLY
    Katie Howard says

    What a legacy! And, from your description, I would bet that he leaves other, just as remarkable, legacies. Very sorry for your loss, and the family’s, but that’s a sounds to me like something we all ascribe to – a life well-lived! ❤️

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      It was indeed. Thank you.

  3. REPLY
    John says

    Thank you so much for sharing this piece of information. It’s amazing the great things that are going on in the world, just when you think it’s all a disaster.

  4. REPLY
    Wim says

    My sincere condolences to his family. A very special man that did understand all your issues and was there to help solve many problems.

  5. REPLY
    Julie says

    I’m so sorry for your loss! Thank God for Sr. Nelson! And thank you for filling us in on more of the back story of ESB!

  6. REPLY
    andrea says

    Que bom que existem pessoas boas! que o Sr Nelson descanse em paz.

  7. REPLY
    Irene says

    Ah my heart aches! Such an incredible man! So selfless! And taken so young! Thank you for sharing this wonderful story! Our hearts break! But the memories are everlasting! ESB is forever great full! 😢♥️

  8. REPLY
    Beji says

    There’s a special place in heaven for this remarkable man. May his generous spirit continue to guide you all.

  9. REPLY
    Barb says

    What a wonderful blessing that Sr. Nelson saw the beauty and joy that ESB would bring to the elephants and to Brazil.

  10. REPLY
    Carol says

    God bless him and may he Rest In Peace. Our deepest condolences to his family. What a blessing he was. Amen.

  11. REPLY
    Alana says

    Thank you for that amazing story of an amazing man. Put right in your path where he needed to be when you needed him. Special indeed! R.I.P. Sr Nelson, you are with Merry, Pelsua, Guida, Ramba now .

  12. REPLY
    lovewrens says

    He sounds like the best kind of man! God bless his family, and watch over them as they make their way in this world without him.

  13. REPLY
    Carol in BC, Canada says

    Thank you for sharing the story of ESB’s early days and especially Sr. Nelson’s many kindnesses. I believe his family will find great comfort and pride in this – thank you to all of them as well. So sorry for your loss.

  14. REPLY
    Terry Feleppa says

    Sr Nelson- Thank you for your service. Thank for your magic. Thank you for your Love and compassion to allow such a beautiful dream come to life for all the gentle souls who are currently here and for other who will continue arriving to sanctuary. Peace be with you always. ❤❤❤

  15. REPLY
    Patricia says

    So so sorry to hear of Sr. Nelson’s passing. Praying for his family and all of you at ESB. 💔

  16. REPLY
    Rosemary Perry says

    We give thanks to this amazing and precious soul who walked this Earth.
    God bless you Sr Nelson, what a legacy you have left. May you rest in peace.

    Rosie and Matt

  17. REPLY
    Amy Bessen says

    What a wonderful person. I’m so sorry for you and also his family.

  18. REPLY
    Polly says

    It is wonderful when man of vision meets the moment he can make a lasting impact.
    Sr. Nelson was such a man. My condolences to his family for their loss.

  19. REPLY
    Carol Anderson says

    My sincere condolences to Sr Nelsons family and friends. The beautiful story you told of all the help that Sr Nelson gave you so that your dream could come true made me cry. That someone could be so selfless as to go above and beyond what anyone would expect. He was a beautiful human being. His legacy will continue even as so many new elephants will be arriving at the sanctuary. I will think of him as each new elephants arrives.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Thank you. He will always be remembered here at ESB.

  20. REPLY
    Carey says

    Somehow I missed this crucial part of the beginnings of ESB, and the role of the extraordinary Senhor Nelson. I am so sorry to hear that the world lost him too early, and to his family I am full of sorrow for your loss. RIP Sr Nelson, you left an incredible legacy.

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Thank you. He is very missed by everyone.

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