Part of the benefit of having our US elephant veterinarian and consultant, Doctor Trish, on site is that Mateus has someone to watch and work alongside. But having them spend time together is as much for her benefit as it is for his. While Trish specializes in elephant medicine, she does not have as much experience working in protected contact environments as Mateus does; she spends most of her time working with elephants in free contact situations in Asia. Trish can adapt to the specific techniques we use at Elephant Sanctuary Brazil, but a bit of guidance and some reminders on how differently things function here is helpful for everyone.
Elephants who live in free contact scenarios are not always afforded the personal space that elephants in a protected contact setting are given. The other day, when Rana did some of her normal new-person behavior, it was most likely because Trish and Mateus were having a conversation about the girls too closely for Rana’s liking. For Rana, being close to humans is linked to treatment, affection, or feeding, not conversations. Taking some steps back makes all of the difference. In the natural world, elephants do not have frequent or up-close contact with humans – so we attempt to give them as much space and freedom here as possible. They simply don’t want or need us to interact with them in that way. Mateus may not have as much veterinary experience with elephants as Trish does, but he knows our elephants more intimately and those personal relationships are the foundation for being able to provide all forms of care.
This dynamic changes a bit when it comes to the specifics of elephant medical knowledge. Though Mateus is also a veterinarian and has been with us a year, he is still learning the many nuances of elephant medical specifics. Trish is able to offer her years of knowledge that are specific to this field. Being an elephant veterinarian means understanding complex and unique knowledge that general practice vets wouldn’t have a need to know. While Mateus is working hard and is committed to learning elephant behaviors and care techniques, it is a long learning process. Becoming an adept elephant caregiver can take years of commitment and is part education, part instinct.
It is helpful to see what another caregiver sees as Mateus’ strong suits and also helpful for Mateus to have another brain to pick for information. Their partnership may spark new conversations about care that have not come up yet. Scott and Kat are thorough teachers and Mateus has a desire to learn, so the more constructive conversations that occur, the better he will become.
Photo: Dr. Trish and Mateus with Mara