What It Takes to Gain an Elephant’s Trust

We have been interviewing for new caregivers at the sanctuary recently, and one of the candidates asked an interesting question that gave us a chance to reflect. She wanted to know if the elephants here at the sanctuary have a high level of trust toward Scott and Kat because the two traveled to pick them up at their old life, and bring them to Elephant Sanctuary Brazil. 

That’s an interesting theory, but the reality is that it’s more than that. While Kat may have sometimes visited elephants before transport, (with the exception of Ramba) she does not travel with the rescue caravan. Instead, she stays at the sanctuary to oversee care of the elephants already here. Though Scott does travel with the elephants to their new home at the sanctuary, there seems to be a larger element at play. 

For instance, Scott led the team that moved Lady to ESB, but Lady built up a trusting relationship with Kat first. It took longer for Lady to open up with Scott and, for whatever reason, allow herself to be vulnerable. She did not arrive with a loyalty towards him above others; if anything, she insisted he prove himself to a higher degree than anyone else. Trust does not occur with elephants only because of the hours spent with them bringing them to their new home. Part of your purpose is to facilitate a new life for them and to honor all that comes with that new life, outside of your own role. Significant trust is something that takes time, is continuously built on day after day, and can be lost at any moment.

Trust can come from things like a daily routine, or the understanding that care we offer is helping them to feel better, but the bedrock of building relationships with the elephants in our care is hearing what they communicate that they need from us – not who met whom first. Truly, respect comes when you honor the space and the life that belongs to them. It’s not about us and our egos or hangups (although it can be difficult for people to not get lost in how wonderful elephants make you feel when you are around them); it’s about what they need for us to be. Sometimes it’s most important for them to be standing on their own and finding their way in a manner that’s completely separate from their relationships with humans. Our job, as those helping to foster their healing, is to recognize and appreciate the significance of each step in their journey, regardless of what it means for us personally.

Photo of Rana, who has wonderful relationships with her caregivers


  1. REPLY
    Nancy HartGold says

    The same could be said for people elephants teach us so much we should do more to incorporate their actions to our lives.

  2. REPLY
    Pam says

    I have great appreciation and admiration for Scott and Kat and for everyone at ESB. Thank you for all that you do.

  3. REPLY
    Carol says

    Such beauty in your words, as always.

  4. REPLY
    Barb says

    Lovely descriptions as always! Scott and Kat could win anyone’s trust (2-leggeds and 4-leggeds 🥰)

  5. REPLY
    Wim says

    Clearly many eye openers in this story. Brave to have new trust in humans after all they’ve been through.

  6. REPLY
    Bonnie says

    Sara did you write this who ever these words came from very nicely saided thank you

    • REPLY
      Sara says

      I did. But, as always, it’s a team effort. Kat and Scott are the magic behind each post!

  7. REPLY
    María Elizabeth Alvarez says

    Thank you!!!

  8. REPLY
    Susy says

    Que lindo trabajo, tanto con nuestros queridos Elefantes , cómo con los humanos, ya que de manera especial y mágica también nos ayudan a curar, a seguir adelante como lo hacen con los gorditos de cuatro patas. Es una tarea admirable. Agradecida de haberlos conocido y de saber de a poco todo lo que hacen para que estos seres especiales tengan una mejor vida.

  9. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman-Eaton says

    When I think of the past abuse and neglect done to these beautiful souls, it is a wonder they would ever trust a human being again. Scott, Kat and the caregivers at GSE earn the respect in the many ways they communicate and care for each elephant. They learn what works for one, may not work for another and show respect for them as individuals. Ever so thankful for GSE. GSE is a role model for true sanctuaries that are interested in giving captive elephants the life they deserve. 🐘❤️🐘

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