Who She Was Then. Who She Is Now. ❤️


Maia and Guida (who passed away in June 2019) were our first elephant rescues of Elephant Sanctuary Brazil. With all of our new followers, we wanted to talk a little bit about who Maia was when she first arrived, and who she is now.

While we give the elephants the autonomy and space they deserve, they still need medical care. We need to be able to do bloodwork and treat any medical or physical conditions that arise. Most captive elephants need significant foot care upon arrival, and then maintenance care after that to keep their feet healthy. We are only able to do all of this with the help of training. We use a method of training called protected contact positive reinforcement. In the simplest terms, it means, behind the protection of a fence, we ask them for certain behaviors (for example – present their feet for filing or trimming) in exchange for treats. If they choose not to participate, they can walk away, and we will try again later.

Most of the elephants here in South America arrive having never been trained in this method before, including Maia. The treatment chute is an area of the barn that is small enough to keep them from turning around, and it has widely spaced bars so we can see them, and they can see us. We use it for more in-depth medical care and initial training and foot care, but the elephants also walk out of them whenever they leave the barn. The first time we had Maia stop and closed her in the treatment chute, she became stressed. She never lashed out, hit the bars, or tried to grab us. Her face showed her immediate fear and her expectation that something bad was about to happen; she was ready to defend herself if needed. Performing elephants are sometimes taken somewhere out of the public eye, closed in, and physically reprimanded when they are ‘bad’. Maia was labeled as a bad elephant while with the circus, and may have experienced this in her past.

Once we saw the fear on Maia’s face, we immediately opened up, let her out, and let her know it was all ok. Unfortunately, for us to provide her with needed foot care, she had to become comfortable being closed in the chute. So, the next day, we stopped her and gave her treats without closing the gate. The morning after we closed her in for three seconds with treats lining the floor, and then immediately opened back up. The next day, she was in there for five seconds with more treats. Then, we would close her in for five seconds, and gently place a hand on her, and then let her out. Each time, she received tons of praise and big food rewards. It took working on this every day for about two weeks until she started to trust that we weren’t going to hurt her.

That is part of who Maia was when she first arrived almost four years ago. We tell you this, not so you feel sorry for her, but so you can understand that everyone who arrives here has their own troubled past that they face as part of their healing. This somewhat common reaction is also part of why we don’t allow visitation. Maia to this day does not like strangers in her space, she quickly becomes agitated. Lady doesn’t even like strange voices (we don’t listen to phone messages around her). Every elephant is different, but it’s our job to care for and protect each and every one of them.

In the past four years, Maia has learned, grown, and become much more comfortable and confident. Maia also trusts her team of dedicated support staff- trust is huge with her. Allowing trust to build is the foundation for meaningful long-term relationships with the elephants in our care. It is part of what allows them to be vulnerable enough to work through past traumas. Sanctuary is not just about space, autonomy, and being part of a herd, it’s also about creating a safe space for growth and healing. It’s what we mean when we say #sanctuaryheals.

Photo of sweet, smiling Maia, showing us how far she has come.

May 29, 2020


  1. REPLY
    Alejandra(Sandy)Enquin says

    Siento tanto agradecimiento y admiracion por la Humanidad que tienen y la Etica en el trato hacia las chicas,Maia,Lady Rana Y Mara y todas ..Hay que educarnos a los seres humanos en el respeto animal y concientizar sobre sus derechos a la privacidad.No son nuestros” ni nuestro entretenimiento,son seres ,como nosotros ,para vivir en libertad y con derechos.Es tan importante todo lo que ustedes nos explican,y genera conciencia y reflexion,para reeducarnos y educar nuevas generaciones.No queremos visitarlas y estresarlas y generar un nuevo tipo de circo o safari donde se vuelva a caer en un egoista capricho ” humano”.

  2. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman Eaton says

    Yes. God Bless each and every person involved in the care and healing of this beautiful soul Maia. Sanctuary does heal, however it has to provide love, patience and understanding of each elephant’s particular needs. Thank you for giving these elephants the individual care they need.

    • REPLY
      Rosana says

      Maia is smiling, she understands your job and she feels secure. Thank you for your work and respect for the animals , Maia and the others ? are happy. We are too.❤️

  3. REPLY
    Wim Diepeveen says

    Maia’s story has taken a healing turn when she arrived in the sanctuary. Every little step must have looked giant to her inner force. Your mending of a broken mirror has reshaped Maia in a miraculous beautiful way. Only when sentient spirits meet and align there will be true love. Thank you deeply for making her forget the ugly face from mankind so she now knows some humans are sentient and trustworthy. ❤️?❤️

  4. REPLY
    Margaret says

    Do you think all the strange voices and people being at Sanctuary was why Lady stayed away from the barn when Mara arrived? And why she waited until the new people left and things calmed back down for her to come investigate?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      Hey Margaret, No, we only had 3 additional people here outside of the normal group (due to Covid), and they were all respectful and quiet. She was already way out there before anyone arrived and she didn’t remotely seem upset or bothered, to the contrary, she seemed extra content. Lady does things in her own way and in her own time, it’s who she is, and part of why we adore her. When she is bothered by strangers it is very cleared that she is actively unsettled. There was none of that with Mara’s arrival.

  5. REPLY
    Paula says

    Querida Kat, yo soy una de sus nuevos seguidores y estoy profundamente conmovida por la manera que cuidan y protegen a estas ?❤
    Yo leo y veo cada posteo, foto y video del santuario y reconozco que aún siento una mezcla de alegría y de tristeza (por las secuelas físicas y emocionales de las ?). Estoy asimilando todo esto que es nuevo para mí. Supongo que ustedes ya saben cómo manejar todos los sentimientos que se mueven con cada rescate. Supongo que habrá momentos muy duros para ustedes también.
    Su labor era algo inimaginable para mí y aquí están ustedes,descubrí que es real!
    Los acompañaré y apoyaré siempre?
    Todo mi respeto y admiración para siempre.
    Muchas gracias!!!!?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      Thank you Paula. It’s not always easy and there are definitely days where our hearts break, but then we are able to look at one of the elephants and see the joy they feel and know we are all part of creating this life for them. It makes the hard days easier. Thank you for your kind words and your support. — kat

  6. REPLY
    carey says

    4 years already, time flies but yes she has really come on, she seems to have a new sense of self it seems to me and I imagine this is developing and ongoing. What you keep saying about autonomy and being free from fear of her humans. I have a lot of respect for Maia

  7. REPLY
    Nishant Bhajaria says

    This was such a poignant post – these gentle creatures deserve all our love that we can give them.

  8. REPLY
    Rosie P says

    I like to think that when an animal reaches sanctuary they are finally surrounded and protected by all those who care deeply for them including all the supporters who helped to build that path to a better life. Sanctuary is a place of healing of mind and body, a place where an abused animal can feel safe and with freedom of choice. Rescue doesn’t end when sanctuary is reached, it is just the beginning. ESB is just that place.
    Thank you for this post it’s food for the heart and soul! Bless you all.

  9. REPLY
    Patricia says

    Hearing about these girls is one of the best things in my life! Love is healing for everyone. I love these girls. Thank you for providing such a wonderful life for them—they are so deserving! And for providing places of light in an often very dark world.

  10. REPLY
    Carol-Ann says

    If only people treated each other with the respect that you show for the elephants in your care.
    I check in every day to your blog. It sometimes makes me cry with joy, as it has today.
    What stewards you all are for the wellbeing of animals and humans, alike.

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