There are numerous reasons why an elephant sanctuary in Brazil is being considered, but the two biggest are need and readiness. Through the past couple of years, ElephantVoices and concerned advocates in Brazil have been working to support legislative efforts to ban the antiquated practice of performing elephants in Brazil while exploring the potential for developing an elephant sanctuary in Brazil. In 2012, Scott and Kat Blais joined these efforts bringing with them the knowledge and experience necessary to help turn the concept into a reality.
Brazil is a very progressive country; it is the world’s 5th largest country and a major economic stronghold in South America. There are already 5 South American countries that have passed legislation to prevent the use of performing elephants. Brazil is following suit with progressive legislation drafted and waiting to be put into action. They know that a better alternative needs to be in place to ensure a safe and healthy future for the displaced circus elephants. Further, we have received communications from a variety of sources willing to transfer elephants as soon as an appropriate alternative is created, being that many zoos do not have adequate space or the expertise to mange the complex needs of elephants. Culturally, Brazil is ready for change, as the general public has become educated about the harsh reality of circus elephants; they have raised a voice for positive change.
Brazil has an estimated 35-40 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. Because of Brazil’s central location, it will also be able to provide sanctuary to elephants from surrounding countries in South America, offering solace to elephants throughout the continent. It is completely possible that Elephant Sanctuary Brazil could have up to 10 residents within the first year of operation.
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 offer 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.
Beginning with climate, several regions in Brazil offer the year-round temperatures that will allow the elephants to be outside, day and night, 365 days a year. Diverse 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 thoroughly enjoy as well.
When developing a sanctuary for elephants, the parameters 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 all have to be 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. Appropriate temperatures will negate the need for a huge barn structure, reducing both the developmental costs and the operating costs for the future. This also means the sanctuary can be operational sooner, which means being able to accept our first residents earlier. Natural water sources, soil rich in minerals, diverse and abundant flora all play a role in the overall budget. But most importantly, all of these things will mean a more natural and complete life for those elephants that will consider this home.
Brazil, with a sound economy, progressive culture, ideal climate, diverse habitats, and central location create a perfect model for providing a healing and safe future for captive elephants in South America.