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NO MORE TEARS: Mara the elephant found sanctuary after 50 painful years in circuses and zoos

Mara displays tics associated with trauma and signs of physical abuse remain (scar tissue on the left side of her giant face, and her front right leg is contorted from an old injury).

ZENGER NEWS: Mara basks in the sun, both happy and exhausted, the memories of a COVID-19 quarantine and a thousand-mile journey fresh in her mind. She never forgets. There are signs that the 3.6-ton elephant, thought to be 55, remembers her decades as a circus performer and years as a zoo curiosity. Now, after a border crossing from Argentina that was nearly scrubbed over coronavirus fears, she has the run of an animal sanctuary in Brazil’s midwestern Mato Grosso state…

The May road trip to Elephant Sanctuary Brazil was four days long, and almost a waste of diesel: At the border crossing from Argentina, a COVID-19 health order had shut down all traffic for nearly a month. It took days for both countries to issue special permission to proceed…

She was born captive in India, in what “was probably a logging camp, since tourism wasn’t that popular at the time,” said Scott Blais, who runs the sanctuary and has run another like it in Tennessee with his wife Katherine. By 1970, at age 5, Mara was on display at the Tierpark Hagenbeck zoo in Hamburg, Germany. An Atlantic crossing that year ended in Uruguay, where she was sold to Circus Africa. Mara was taken across the Rio de la Plata to Buenos Aires a year later, bought by the performing troupe…

Blais says she arrived on May 13 displaying tics that animal behaviorists associate with trauma, and then quickly shed the pain. “She was swaying her head almost all the time,” he says, “a habitual pattern developed for decades. And within two weeks it was essentially gone.”

Physical signs of abuse remain. Scar tissue on the left side of her giant face—on her cheek and above her eye—are what’s left of abscesses from long ago. Her front right leg is contorted from an old injury. Yet she’s quickly adjusting to an elephant’s equivalent of a retirement home. Elephants have roughly the same life span as humans, so Mara could live another 15 years or more.

About 80 percent of her diet is wild-foraged food. Caretakers add hay and grains, and reward her with fruit during medical checkups. She lopes and grazes in what seems like slow motion, eating and digesting between 300 and 400 pounds of food per day. Three other rescued senior citizens keep her company, playing in streams and ponds in a climate that’s similar to her native India’s.

Blais says when Rana, a 60-year-old female elephant, met Mara, she “was incredibly vocal—a lot of bellowing, rumbling, signs of excitement and enthusiasm. They are inseparable.” Katherine Blais says Rana “is acting like an older sister” while they roam the sanctuary’s 2,800 acres. “While Mara reacts to birds and tapirs, Rana leads the way and protects her”…

Brazil banned circus animal acts in 1995. More than 30 countries have national regulations or laws that ban animals in circuses, according to the nonprofit advocacy group Animal Defenders International. The cramped urban zoo where Mara lived closed to the public in 2016. Officials are still trying to find homes for 1,500 animals while they turn the land into a public park… Animal protection groups in dozens of countries have campaigned to strip circuses of their animal acts. Some would also shutter zoos. In the United States those groups have so far failed to find their holy grail: a judge who will rule that an animal is a “person” with legal rights.  SOURCE…

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