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Winds of change for animal welfare in Brazil? Meeting Teresita in São Paulo Zoo

By banning all animals from circuses Bolivia has shown the way forward. There are other positive things happening in regard to animal welfare in other countries in Latin America, too. ElephantVoices intends to try to follow the situation in Brazil, inspired by the dedication of Junia Machado. Junia has volunteered to work with us to find out more about the situation for elephants in the country and to promote positive change.

Junia has recently spent quite a lot of time with the 26-year-old elephant, Teresita, who lives alone in the São Paulo Zoo. With our input Junia is collecting data to describe how this lonely female African elephant spend her time. This "activity budget" will give insight into how Teresita is coping in an appalling situation, and what the zoo is doing or not doing to alleviate her suffering. Junia is collecting information on Teresita's activities every minute on-the-minute which will basically summarize how Teresita spends her time. Our hope is that Junia's data, combined with solid science available on, will provide the facts and arguments that are needed to convince legislators and others with power that radical change is required to improve Teresita's existence. We will be sharing Junia's findings with you and will follow up with the reaction of the zoo. The photographs below taken by Junia already tell a lot about her sad living conditions.

In April 2000, the attention of Brazil's lawmakers was brought to the issue of animals in circuses when a six-year-old boy was killed by a lion in the Vostok circus. At that time the lack of security was the main focus. Eight years later, national news reported a new case, this time referring to accusations of cruelty. In August 2008, the Brazilian Environment Agency (IBAMA) confiscated animals from "Le Cirque," accusing the circus of inappropriate space and inhumane treatment. A law banning animals from circuses was proposed as early as 2006, and three states, São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro and Pernambuco, and more than 20 cities in other states, have already implemented such bans. Since 2010 is an election year in Brazil it is quite difficult to know what will happen, but we sincerely hope we will see some progress after the general election in the beginning of October and Junia is in any case following up.

Junia's interest in elephants was triggered by a book, Marvelous and Mysteries of Animal World, published in 1966. Do read Junia's own words about her interest and love for elephants - and how she became so committed to helping Teresita. You will hear more from Junia and about elephants in Brazil during the months to come - and hopefully some good news about legislation and improved elephant welfare. There are currently 23 elephants in Brazilian zoos (519.25 kB) - we continue to look into how many circus elephants there are.

Teresita reaching through a hole in the cement wall to search for food. (©Junia Machado)


Teresita has several strange calluses on her head, most likely caused by having to press her head against the cement wall to stretch her trunk through the hole in the wall to try to attain out of reach food. (©Junia Machado)

From this location Teresita might be able to see some near by activity. (©Junia Machado)

Another grey and boring day for a sad Teresita; nothing
to do and no friends. (©Junia Machado)