Science | August 10, 2020 7:30 am

The Challenges of Taking an Elephant on a Road Trip

A massive effort to relocate a massive creature

Buenos Aires zoo
General view of the Buenos Aires zoo on November 24, 2016.
EITAN ABRAMOVICH/AFP via Getty Images

Road trips can be a lot of fun, but they also involve plenty of planning. If a particular road trip is over a certain distance, that’s going to require even more planning. The same is true for road trips that involve crossing national borders. Factor in an ongoing pandemic and you have yet another factor to complicate matters. And that’s even before we get to the elephant in the room.

In this case, that’s not a figure of speech. A new article in The New York Times by Brooke Jarvis chronicles the recent efforts made by a dedicated group of people to transport an elephant named Mara from the Buenos Aires Zoo to Elephant Sanctuary Brazil — a journey of 1,700 miles.

The zoo in which Mara had lived announced that it would be closing in 2016, with plans to relocate animals to sanctuaries when possible. The process by which Mara was able to be conveyed to Brazil involved tracking down a number of records about her early life, some of which were believed to have been lost.

In doing so, Mara’s life story could be better understood: she was born in India and spent time in a circus in Germany before making the move to Argentina. She eventually moved to the zoo in 1995.

Mara’s story has a happy ending, but it also reveals plenty about changing attitudes towards zoos and circuses over the years — and how we’re still processing their legacy in numerous ways today.

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