Quite simply the decision to start a sanctuary in Brazil came down to need and readiness. Following careful analysis, Brazil was chosen as the location for GSE’s pilot project to ensure that the growing number of elephants displaced by ongoing bans on performing animals across South America would be guaranteed compassionate care in an appropriate habitat. We wanted to offer the same healing we witnessed in the elephants we cared for at sanctuary in the US, to elephants in another part of the globe.
Brazil has an estimated 35 resident elephants, 18 live in primarily substandard zoo facilities while another 17 are known to be traveling with circus or already sequestered to a remote life of chains and severe confinement. There are approximately 50 captive elephants total in South America. Because of Brazil’s central location, we are able to provide sanctuary to elephants from surrounding countries, offering solace to elephants throughout the continent.
One of the most fundamental components to developing a sound, holistic sanctuary is the land it will be built upon. Brazil’s incredible diversity and widely available rural habitat offered a vast spectrum of possibilities. To provide elephants a life that allows and encourages them to express naturalistic behaviors, it is vital to start with land that meets their inherent needs.
Varied flora and biodiversity are imperative to maintain a proper diet for an elephant. Elephants can graze for up to 20 hours each day, eating upwards of 150 pounds of vegetation daily. The only way to meet this need is to have a variety of grasses, vines, shrubs, bushes, and trees at their access.
Topography is yet another major consideration. Varied terrain generally promotes diverse vegetation but it also promotes dynamic muscle use. Elephants are incredibly adept at climbing hillsides, aiding the development of strength and balance, assisting in the reversal of joint disease that has developed from decades with minimal exercise and standing on unnaturally hard surfaces.
Natural bodies of water are imperative, going beyond the necessity for drinking water. Anyone who has seen an elephant bathe knows it is a something they relish. Water originating from multiple sources, in different locations encourages sustained exploration and plays a role in the autonomy necessary for elephants to heal.
Long-term sustainability is key when developing sanctuary for elephants. This means examining parameters that go beyond the needs of the elephants. Considerations for land preservation, the impact, if any, on native plant and animal species, soil quality, sustainability of forest and grassland, along with proximity to veterinary care and stores for supplies are all taken into account.
Location for the sanctuary is one of the most important decisions. An optimal location can decrease the overall cost of the project, which means more funds for elephant rescue and care. Appropriate temperatures will negate the need for a huge barn structure, reducing both the developmental costs and the operating costs for the future. But most importantly, all of these things mean a more natural and complete life for those elephants that will call Elephant Sanctuary Brazil home.