August 22, 2011

We all enjoyed a few milder days this past week, even feeling a "cool" breeze from time to time. Afternoons and evenings were especially pleasant.

Flora and Tange hung around the barn for a few days, which presented an opportunity for some more PC sessions. Both Girls continue to do well, making little strides nearly every day. We also introduced one of the Caregivers to the PC training for the first time. Managing the whistle and targets at the same time can be a bit entertaining: it's a challenge to hold a whistle in your mouth while asking questions, giving cues to the Girls, and trying not to "tweet" in between bridges—not to mention the two long poles you're waving around! Getting used to the length and placement of the poles only adds to the fun of just starting out.

At Q-Barn, Debbie has been progressing well with her PC training. She seems to really love her "mani-pedis" and keeps putting her feet back up to let someone work on them some more. We're finished long before she is! Debbie's also fond of the treats, so it's a win-win for her. Debbie is also one to throw open her mouth to ask for extra food, so that enthusiasm has lent itself well to pill swallowing training, too. She also seems to enjoy water from the squirt bottle being squirted into her mouth to rinse down her practice pills.

This past week the Girls were enjoying the milder weather and not rushing back to the barn quite so early in the day. Debbie, Ronnie, and Minnie could be found out in Fields 6 or 7 late in the afternoons, enjoying the open pasture and often finding just the right greenery to adorn their heads as well.

 
Shirley, Tarra and Bella at the lake.

We are sometimes asked why we talk about the "little things" in the days of the Girls, like special treats or where they wander in the habitat. Aside from the fact we try to write updates for people of all ages, the biggest reason is because all of these things are little miracles for each of these Girls. Especially when you consider the places where most of these Ladies have come from—like a hot-wired pen that holds 5 swaying elephants, while roped in place, trying to gather the remnants of the hay they are offered. Inside the ring you could watch them mindlessly pace around in a circle for hours, surrounded by loud people, and most sadly, their eyes are vacant of the wonderful spirit their bodies once held. If you have ever seen an exhibit with a lone elephant, imagine what it is like to spend 30 years with no one to really communicate with, trapped in a tiny space, day after day, with no one who truly speaks your language.

We have witnessed the former lives of some of our elephants, and that is why the little things they experience as they go through their days here have such a big impact on us. Our Girls have the ability to walk—for hours if they want—through the woods, up a hill, into a pond to cool off if they choose. Not only is it natural behavior, but it helps maintain their body condition. Shirley is 63, has a bad back leg, and still will travel over a mile in a day, sometimes to be with a good friend, and sometimes just to go where her favorite grasses grow. Here, the Ladies get to choose who they want to spend their time with. They have the ability to walk away from a situation any time they choose, and they use that freedom without hesitation.

At The Sanctuary, the elephants are surrounded by natural vegetation, which not only nourishes them but also helps to naturally wear down their teeth, and to move their system along at a more natural pace. And they are offered special treats—the best part about that (besides the fact they're delicious), is that they are lovingly sent from people who truly care for them. Before they arrived here, most of these elephants had gone through a life of emptiness, presented as entertainment—to be there for us. But here the roles are reversed, and the people are there for them.

Supporters watching the live Elecam can have their morning cup of coffee while they watch the elephants eating their breakfast. They learn their life stories, and from worlds away, have formed bonds with these Girls over something about them that managed to touch their heart—perhaps a struggle they found they could relate to. We are moved by the people who know where each of these Girls came from, their anniversaries, when something great or tragic happened to them… while there are sometimes bigger occurrences in their lives here, for the most part their days are slow and natural, taken at their own pace—as it should be. So if we talk about the "little things" like elephant popsicle treats or Grandma Shirley going for a long walk to meet back up with Tarra, to us, these things are not trivial. Sadly, they are moments that the majority of captive elephants in this country will never have the pleasure of experiencing. Our Girls are blessed, as are we—for being able to share their journeys with them.