She’s a Sensitive Lady

Lady is a very sensitive elephant.  She is in tune with everything around her and is very unsure around new people.

When Mateus recently shifted Lady from Yard 3 to Yard 2 for cleaning (which is usually a straightforward process where she comes quickly and willingly), she stopped moving and started stereotyping – a common behavior seen in elephants coping with trauma. Before coming to the sanctuary, she stereotyped significantly. Like with most new arrivals, her stereotyping decreased greatly upon arrival. She now exhibits this behavior rarely – rarely enough that Mateus was concerned to see her doing it. Kat came down to the barn to check and noted that Lady seemed unsettled. When Lady came into the barn for her usual foot soaks, she was not as relaxed as usual, despite the routine nature of what was happening. Her unease seemed unrelated to pain, but still, she would periodically start stereotyping. Lady continued this on and off throughout the morning.

We assumed that she was responding to contractors we had on-site that day. We currently have a team working on a project here. They seem nice, friendly, and respectful, but they are primarily male. Lady reacts more strongly to strange men than strange females. The men are working on a project far away from the Asian Barn; however, the morning she was stereotyping, they were getting materials from an area somewhat close to the barn. The materials area isn’t visible from the barn, but with her excellent sense of hearing and smell, Lady knew they were near. We saw something similar with Lady during the wildfire in October. While she didn’t react strongly to the fire, she stereotyped when the firefighters came closer to her yard.

Even though we have never been open to the public, our closed policy was designed with elephants like Lady in mind. Watching her reaction to having strangers on the grounds – even though they are nowhere near her – reminds us how fragile their healing is. In establishing the safe space that sanctuary should be, our role is to create a haven for the most challenging elephants. While many elephants need sanctuary, the ones who need us most are the sensitive ones like Lady, the fearful ones like Bambi, and the ones with aggressive pasts like Maia. As a sanctuary, we need to create a world where those elephants can thrive. We have to consider the impact any new design or element might have on our current and future residents. That means evaluating everything from fencing and gate location to training and our visitation policy.

Once the contractors left the area near the barn, Lady went in the far back of Yard 2 and seemed to settle. We noticed that the further back she went, the more at ease she appeared.

It’s just yet another reminder that this is their home, and we – even those who live here, too – are the visitors.


  1. REPLY
    John says

    I’m a little confused by what you mean by stereotyping in this context.

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      It is a neurotic behavior that many captive elephants do. It is thought to release endorphins, so it is used as a coping mechanism. For Lady, it means she sways her head back and forth. The action itself can appear passive, but the meaning behind it is not. — sorry, we should have explained it further. We’re so used to seeing it after decades in the captive elephant world, that we forget it’s not ‘normal’ for most humans to be exposed to.

  2. REPLY
    Nancy Shaw says

    Love Her !

  3. REPLY
    Katie Howard says

    Oh my heart is doing flip-flops! On the one hand, the photo of her is phenomenal! Such a happy visage! On the other hand, my heart is bleeding for her fragile state. And on the OTHER hand (I seem to have 3 now!), I am again furious at the past treatment that she and so many other elephants have received in their lifetimes to render them in such a state…
    Hoping Lady has a wonderful week, then another. And she does look amazingly content!

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      It can sometimes be difficult to hear that she has moments of struggle, but how far she has come, in such a short time, after all she has been through, is nothing short of remarkable. She is a tough lady and we are always filled with pride when we look at her, knowing how much work she has put in and that she continues to move forward on her journey of healing.

  4. REPLY
    Beji says

    It breaks my heart that any of the girls are afraid or apprehensive of anyone at sanctuary. If the girls only knew that their well being is the most important thing to everyone. It will just take a little time. I hope they all have many years to just be the beloved elephants that they so obviously are. Loved and cherished. You go, girls. Everyone around the world are rooting for you! I know you feel it. It just takes time. Hang in there my darlings and rest easy. You’ve done your job, your people will take it from here. Just be elephants!! You girls are all magnificent!! Just relax and have your staff wait on you. Get those tootsies taken care of. Sore feet suck!

  5. REPLY
    Debbie Sides says

    Sad that her past and the others are traumatic. Being taken from their mother and “trained” for entertainment is such a cruel existence. ESB is her safe place and she can go at her own pace.

  6. REPLY
    Jean says

    Her peaceful home was threatened unwittingly by the workers. Trauma takes ages if ever to go away. Cant even imagine what these poor girls have gone
    Thank goodness for the sanctuary and the wonderful work you do!
    May they all continue to heal.

  7. REPLY
    Julie says

    Gorgeous close-up. She looks so happy and healthy! It is too bad you can’t tell her everything is going to be okay and that she never has to leave sanctuary. She may not fully believe it is her forever home and think any unusual activity means she is going to be taken somewhere else. Sending positive thoughts ESB way!

  8. REPLY
    Rachel says

    Sending loving, tender vibes to Lady…

  9. REPLY
    Wim says

    Just shows how heavy the shadows of the girls past still follows them. In captivity zoochosis is often underrated.
    Lady is a hypersensitive sentient being maybe we could rename her into Angel. Hope she’ll find some balance again. ???

  10. REPLY
    Carole Kramer says

    I am also sending loving and tender thoughts as I understand how Lady was triggered into neurotic behavior. ??

  11. REPLY
    Carole Kramer says

    Love you Lady! Everything will be all right! ??

  12. REPLY
    Carole Kramer says

    Everything will be all right, dear, beautiful Lady. You are doing fine! ??

  13. REPLY
    Terry Feleppa says

    I’m glad a read tge comments to find out tge behavior of ” stereotyping”. It’s like someone shaking their head and fist saying ” no, no, no, not in my safe home”….I love sensitive souls!

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      Stereotyping is a type of repetitive, neurotic behavior that an elephant uses as a coping mechanism. You see it often in animals that have been held in captivity.

  14. REPLY
    Sunny says

    I applaud the sanctuary’s policy of no visitors ?

  15. REPLY
    Charlotte Hansen says

    Even though this is difficult to hear, it makes me love Lady’s humans more to know how much she is loved and understood by all of you. She is so blessed to have you caring for her every need!

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