Brazil opens Latin America’s first elephant sanctuary

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Two former circus elephants are the first residents

The sanctuary was built in an old cattle ranch

CNN  — 

Brazil has opened up the first sanctuary in Latin America for elephants previously in captivity, an idyllic retreat that could eventually house as many as 50 of the giant animals.

Elephant Sanctuary Brazil, in the central Brazilian state of Mato Grosso, was founded by the US-based non-profit organization Global Sanctuary for Elephants, and it already has its first two residents.

Maia and Guida, two elephants that spent the past four decades in captivity, arrived at the sanctuary Tuesday. Posts on the group’s Facebook page show that the girls have started to adapt not only to their newfound freedom, but also to each other.

“They are completely thriving,” said Scott Blais, the chief executive for Global Sanctuary for Elephants.

Maia and Guida spent the past 40 years with a circus in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais. For the past half-decade they were attached to 15-foot chains on a farm owned by the lawyer for the circus.

Blais said they had no proper fencing or living environment.

Guida was allowed off the chains every once in a while, but that wasn’t the case for Maia, Blais said.

“There was a hot wire, and one electric strand between the two, and that was because they wanted the elephants to be able to touch the trunks a little bit, but Maia was always aggressive to Guida,” he said.

Like ‘best buds’

Since relocating to the new sanctuary, Blais said there have been no signs of aggression between the two elephants.

“Their very first contact they had with each other without a barrier, Guida was a little defensive, a little protective, and after that it was like they have been together, side by side, best buds for 50 years,” he said.

Global Sanctuary for Elephants settled on Brazil because there was a grassroots effort to get the sanctuary started and volunteers ready to assist.

“There is a huge need for elephants that are just waiting in line,” Blais said.

In Brazil there is a lot of support for protecting the future of former circus elephants, the group says, and great public awareness of the issues surrounding the animals.

Walking free

Maia and Guida’s marathon journey to their new home started Sunday in Paraguacu, at the farm where they were chained. They were transported to the sanctuary in individual containers. After two days and almost 1,000 miles, Maia walked free, and Guida was released shortly after.

The sanctuary’s next resident could be Ramba, an elephant currently living in Chile. There are a few other elephants also in Brazil that are on the list for the sanctuary. The next resident could arrive as soon as early next year.

The land where the sanctuary was built is a former cattle ranch. The area has 2,800 acres and was purchased by the non-profit to house as many as 50 elephants from at-risk conditions in zoos and circuses across Latin America.

The organization relies on private donations and crowdfunding for their efforts. Because of the lack of funding, Maia and Guida have access to only one acre at the moment, but as soon as more funding comes in, Blais said, they expect to continue to develop the area and open up more space for the elephants to roam around.

“It’s an exceptionally unique piece of property,” he said.

Blais adds the elephants will have plenty of room and ways to be entertained in their new home.

“Springs, creeks, forest, pastures … just an ideal protective location within an ideal climatic region,” he said.