As soon as we complete this first phase of development, we will be able to receive between 4 and 6 elephants-dependent upon species, gender and compatibility. This space will allow us to safely integrate that many elephants allowing them the comfort needed to begin healing.
Phase 1 of Development:
For the elephants, it will include 1 Elephant Care Center that will exit into 2 adjoining 20-acre corrals. . This initial development is nestled in a valley between two large hills with diverse habitat including forested areas, rocky areas, topographical changes that will help build muscle and enough land to sustain the elephants with natural forage. Along with the fresh running water already in the area, an additional pond will be built for them to wallow and submerge. This phase will also include numerous smaller components including infrastructure, dirt roads, security fencing and caregiver housing.
Time is of the essence with 3 elephants already waiting for sanctuary who were confiscated over 4 years ago. Without a healthy alternative, they have been chained, put on rural farms and live in temporary facilities. In order to rescue them as soon as possible and ensure they have a positive future, we are starting with this phase of development. This is just the beginning, once it is complete, we will continue to expand with the construction of additional fences. Ultimately enclosing the entire 2800 acres, which will take 5 years or more. The rate of expansion depends on the donations; more donations = expedited development.
Ramba is an elephant that lives in Chile who was confiscated over 4 years ago. She is in a temporary facility waiting for us to finish construction. Maia and Guida are two elephants that were confiscated 5 years ago, and have since lived on the farm of the lawyer for the circus they were confiscated from. Due to them being curious and somewhat ‘destructive’ they remain chained for the majority of their days. We have been contacted about several other elephants, both species and genders, but our first phase will concentrate on Asian elephants due to the majority of captive elephants in South America being Asian.
General Sanctuary Questions:
All of the elephants that will move to Elephant Sanctuary Brazil will come from captivity. They will be elephants that have spent their lives in zoos and circuses from throughout South America, Latin America and possibly beyond. Virtually all of these elephants were wild caught, captured as infants, packed into crates and shipped to zoos and circuses, where they have spent a lifetime of inherent neglect. Sanctuary is about letting them have as close to a normal life as possible in captivity.
There are many reasons why returning elephants back to the wild is not feasible:
- Due to decades of insufficient space, socialization, stimulation and care, most captive elephant have developed chronic physical, psychological and emotional ailments, some which require a lifetime of medical care.
- Wild elephant survival is dependent on protection of strong family bonds, relationships that have been formed over many years and ancient knowledge that has been passed along from generation to generation.
- We will not save the species through reintroducing captive elephants; we must preserve wild spaces and protect wild populations if we want to share the world with elephants in the future.
It is vital to remember that we are not introducing them to the wilds of Brazil. The sanctuary is fully enclosed and managed, to keep elephants in and to prevent intrusion from people on the outside. We will not be breeding the elephants, so the elephant population at the sanctuary will remain controlled.
The organizations involved are all funded entirely through private donations from the public, foundations and corporations. We will not receive state or federal funding.
The simple answer: No.
Visitation is something we have discussed at length. We would like to allow limited visitation, but we need to ensure it has minimal impact on the elephants. There is so much emotional healing that needs to take place at sanctuary; there are elephants with deep-seated insecurities and trust issues. Having people that the elephants don’t know, close to them, can be an issue for some. Some elephants wouldn’t be affected at all, but with elephants at sanctuary, we often plan for the worst and hope for the best. In other words, we have to plan for the one elephant that may take a step backwards in their healing if people they don’t know are close to them, because that is the elephant that will need the most help and have the toughest journey of recovery. This is their home and they truly have to feel, that for the first time in their life, it is all about them.
They are no longer on display or need to perform.
That being said, we also know the benefit of having people able to see elephants in a natural habitat, the feeling that comes from being in their presence, and the bond that can form. With the layout of the property, we should be able to do some sort of observation deck or building at the top of a big hill along the border, looking down into the valleys where the elephants will be. There will be no guarantee you will see an elephant, but that is only because they will be doing whatever it is they choose to be doing at that moment. For now, our thought is to allow very small groups (the energy of a loud crowd is distracting, even at a distance) and it will be done from a large distance and on a limited basis. For us personally, taking into consideration what elephants have shown us in the past, this is what we see as the best solution to protect their privacy and space, yet allow for educational groups, researchers and a few select others to get a glimpse of what their life is like when allowed to roam on 2800 acres in Brazil. Our first priority is getting things built and ready for elephants, next we worry about getting the elephants here and comfortable, and through this process we’ll further evaluate how to best accommodate isolated and limited groups in a way that is beneficial and respectful for everyone.
We are also planning on having a camera system in the future, but due to cost, and creating areas for the elephants being the priority, that will not happen initially.
No they will not destroy the habitat. Based on our model sanctuaries, we know that the elephants will bring a positive impact, actually promoting increased diversity of both flora and fauna. It is important to consider several key factors that minimize or eliminate this concern:
- We will have a very low population density. When we calculate the difference between cows and elephants we see that cows in this region are managed at about 1 cow per hectare. This direct equivalent is about 1 elephant per 6 hectares; at maximum capacity we will have approximately 1 elephant per 18-20 hectares.
- The majority of the elephants we will house are Asian, they live in the forest by nature and bring a very positive impact: dispersing seeds, promoting new growth and opening corridors through the forest that are used by native wildlife.
- The African elephants are a little harder on their environment but they do bring a positive impact, opening forest canopies to allow sunlight to promote new growth.
- The property will be divided in numerous sections, and ideally several sections will be available to each group: male, female, African and Asian elephants. These sections will allow us to close off areas that may need time to rejuvenate. This is not something that was required by our model sanctuaries but the option exists if needed.
Elephants are a peaceable species; they are neither predator nor prey to any animals that reside in Brazil. They will cohabitate seamlessly. In fact, based on our model sanctuaries, there will likely be an increase in fauna as some animals will be attracted to the residual grains and fruit that the elephants leave behind after their supplemental meals. Insects attracted to their dung, as well as undigested seeds, which also attract several small mammals and birds. The sanctuary also becomes a safe zone for species that are hunted by humans.
The elephants are cared for and looked after by trained and experienced care staff who live on grounds 24 hours per day. For our pilot project, GSE directors Scott and Kat Blais, have move to Brazil to oversee the development, operation, staff training and elephant care. These two elephant care specialist bring years of knowledge and experience with sanctuary design and operation, captive elephant care and recovery and veterinary care.
This is a complex and multifaceted question. Let me first say that elephants, like people, are individuals. They respond to crisis, trauma and life challenges differently. Some will manifest stress and anxiety physically, developing ulcers or immune system compromise, while others will develop behavioral issues, exhibiting stereotypical neurotic or repetitive patterns of swaying or even self-mutilation or aggression.
Others withdraw deeply inward, essentially tuning out the stress of their captive confines. Recovery for each of these elephants is different. The first step for all of them is to create an environment that meets their innate needs and provides them with autonomy and the opportunity to feel that they have some control over their own lives. We then have to establish trust and we must let them know that we respect and appreciate them for who they are as an individual. With trust, they learn that they can express themselves freely, through positive or negative behavior, without punishment. From decades in captivity, all of these three primary factors have been suppressed. Some elephants forget how to express joy or anger, mostly because they learned that their emotional expression didn’t matter, nothing changed. When living the life of a circus elephant, any expression of negative behavior is immediately painfully punished. In zoos the environments are starved for stimulation, causing a lack of emotional response because everything is the same, for decades. With autonomy, trust and communication, elephants start to express who they are, allowing us to see their likes and dislikes, further enhancing our relationship and our ability to provide them lifelong medical care. For each elephant this process is different, there is no one absolute formula or approach that works for all. There is however one factor that is pivotal to expedited recovery; the presence of other elephants – they can provide each other with a degree of nurturing and empathy that no human could possibly replace.
Based on the dozens of elephants that our specialist have worked with, some that were considered among the most aggressive and most tragic cases in the US, all elephants will recover. For some, this process occurs seemingly overnight, while others can take years to fully trust humans and even trust themselves. Through this process they are offered expansive space, autonomy and access to other elephants, as these are critical to the recovery of every elephant.
The sanctuary is designed and constructed for the worst-case scenario. Elements are designed that may rarely or possibly never be used, but they are available if needed. Each habitat, for the various species and sexes, will have subdivided enclosures, allowing flexibility for facility and habitat management and separating groups of elephants if their behavior dictates.
The very core nature of elephants is that they are highly social beings. Most, even those that lived alone for decades, adapt seamlessly to a social environment. Sanctuary, while complex due to the intricacies of the species and trauma of captivity, is fundamentally simple. It provides the protection, space and autonomy that allows elephants to be elephants. Some elephants may need a little space and time before fully integrating with others; the facility design permits this while our expert caretakers employ techniques to help elephants fully adjust to their new life.
Our facility is designed to keep the two primary groups of Asian and African elephants separate. While they have been known to occasionally get along in captivity, there are vast social, behavioral and communication differences between these species. For their recovery and comfort, and to allow them to live as close to a natural herd dynamic as possible, the two groups will be managed separately.
There are a little more than 50 elephants in South America. While we know that not all of these will come to live at Elephant Sanctuary Brazil, the space and facility design could accommodate all of these elephants. As for the exact number, we are here to help as many as we can and to care for any elephant in need of sanctuary. Circuses will soon be banned throughout most of the continent, some zoos are facing budget crises and are housing rapidly aging elephants with increased health complications. Elephant Sanctuary Brazil has the space, knowledge and direct experience to provide critical and long-term care for any elephant.
Presently there are 11 states in Brazil that have banned the use of performing elephants and there is a national ban in the legislative process. In South America, 5 countries have passed similar bans and two more countries will soon follow. Not only will these displaced circus elephants need somewhere to go but several zoos are also looking for assistance. With budget cuts and ailing elephants and most zoos having grossly limited space available, there are a few already reaching out for a solution. On top of that, the active regulatory agency needs a viable, healthy alternative where they can place elephants confiscated from dire conditions.
The climate is ideal! It is beautiful spring and fall like temperatures year round with warm days and fresh cool nights, and temperature ranges well within the normal limits for both species. One of the great benefits of this climate is that we won’t need elaborate barns and the elephants will never need to be closed inside. This greatly reduces our operating and development expenses, but more importantly it provides the elephants with year-round outdoor living.
Many elephants adapt seamlessly. Some are occasionally a little nervous for a few days, but without exception, they all meld into their new world. This is not surprising as we are simply providing a space for them to be able to live and act as a normal elephant would. Sanctuary returns them to a more natural state of living. It has been observed that aggressive elephants become passive and solitary elephants become social. In one instance, an elephant that was labeled by the zoo she lived at as antisocial, a killer and autistic, was anything but those things. Within 2 years at sanctuary she was gentle, cooperative and even developed into a leader and mentor for other herd members. With regard to foraging, there is nothing more natural than an elephant eating grass. For some elephants this is the first time they have ever walked on grass, which sometimes causes them to pause just for a second, but they all immediately start to eat it. This is something that all elephants know how to do; it is not a learned behavior.
The primary food source will be native and cultivated grasses. Some elephants will eat tree branches (primarily African elephants) all will be supplemented daily with fruits, vegetables, grains, nutritional and digestive aids as well as medications prescribed by our extensive veterinary team. The exact volume of supplementation will vary with the health of the individual and availability of pasture grasses for grazing. It is vital for the elephant’s recovery and return to a more natural state of living, to provide ample space to graze and forage as they would in the wild for up to 20 hours each day. This slow methodical grazing and searching for the most palatable grasses, provides psychological stimulation, allowing their bodies to return to a natural way of functioning, improving GI health and adequate wear on their molars. GI health compromise and malocclusion of their molars are two of the top factors that negatively impact captive elephant health. As proven by our model sanctuaries, returning the elephants to a natural diet and method of ingestion has an immediate positive impact on their health.
The entire area will be fenced with a double fence system.
Steel pipe corrals are designed to keep the elephants safely inside and a perimeter security fence will keep the public from invading the elephants’ space. To allow for the natural migration of wildlife, strategic areas will be chosen to install a modified fence system, permitting pass through without compromising the safety of the elephants.
While this project is new to many, it has been years in planning and preparation. As mentioned above, one of the key members of our team helped to pioneer this model of successful elephant care in 1995. With 3 sanctuary models, each with more than 20 years of tremendous success, we have a strong basis for our facility design, development and long-term operation. Scott Blais, the CEO of Global Sanctuary for Elephants, has more than 25 years of experience and has worked with more than 50 captive elephants. This direct experience of working with captive elephants, combined with his knowledge of Sanctuary development and operation, creates a wealth of knowledge and experience that will be applied to Elephant Sanctuary Brazil. We are also grateful and deeply fortunate to have notable and renowned expert Dr. Joyce Poole, cofounder of ElephantVoices. Joyce has lived with and studied elephants in Africa for more than 40 years. Her encyclopedic knowledge of wild elephant behavior is invaluable to our operations. It will ensure that the innate and natural life of elephants is respected and honored while also taking into account the compromises caused by captivity.