Latin America’s First Elephant Sanctuary

Last week, the first elephant sanctuary in Latin America was opened in Brazil. Two former circus elephants, Maia and Guida, are the first to call the new 2800-acre sanctuary there home. Located in the southwestern state of Mato Grosso, this reserve will allow its two current residents and any newcomers the opportunity to roam freely without any disturbances from human activities.

Sanctuary officials estimate there are more than 50 elephants living in captivity in Brazil, Chile, Venezuela, and Argentina. Most of these elephants are entering the last stages of their lives and require news homes as zoos and circuses can no longer use them. And as more countries in South America are banning the use of elephants in circuses, the need to find them a new home has become more urgent.

Figuring out what to do with aging elephants has become increasingly difficult as their natural habitats come under attack in Asia and Africa. The biggest threat in Asia is diminishing land from expansion of human activities such as urban development and extractive industries. In Africa, illegal poaching has made most parts of the continent unsafe for elephants and decimated their populations, resulting in a 30% drop over the past decade. With this in mind, the new Brazilian sanctuary is even more significant. It provides animals that have been abused for most of their lives with the chance to enjoy a peaceful existence in an appropriate and protected environment.

The Global Sanctuary for Elephants bought the 2800 acres of land for $1 million to be paid over five years to the Brazilian government. Scott Blais, CEO of the organization, has worked with local partners in Brazil to establish the sanctuary and ensure veterinary services for the animals. Having work on a similar project in the United States in the 1990s, Blais wanted to use his previous experience to help ageing elephants in South America. The project hopes to add four other elephants to the sanctuary over the next two years.

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