Elephant Kept in Concrete Pit for 50 Years Dies Just Months After Being Rescued

by Lauren Boisvert
(Photo by Teradat Santivivut/Getty Images)

An elephant has died six months after her rescue from a concrete pit in an Argentinian zoo, where she stayed for 50 years. Pocha the Asian elephant and her daughter Guillermina lived almost their entire lives in horrible conditions. They were located at the Ecoparque of Mendoza in Argentina. In May 2022, Elephant Sanctuary Brazil rescued Pocha and Guillermina. The sanctuary reported Pocha’s death recently.

The elephant’s cause of death is currently unknown. But, staff at the sanctuary speculate she could have developed a chronic illness due to her lifetime in unsuitable conditions. A bright spot in this story is that the positive changes in Pocha and Guillermina were immediately noticeable when they arrived in their new home.

“[Pocha] immediately immersed herself into this world of walking and grazing and dusting and playing,” Scott Blais, co-founder and CEO of Global Sanctuary for Elephants, told Newsweek recently. “She was perfect. She was one of those elephants that stole my heart from the get-go […] She saw well into your soul when she looked at you.”

It’s believed that Pocha, 57, came to Ecoparque of Mendoza in 1968. There, she lived in a sparse environment for the majority of her life and the entirety of her daughter’s. “She was at the zoo in the same exhibit, that concrete pit, for all those years,” said Blais. “That space was just dark, cold, damp, miserable, completely devoid of any stimulation […] She was in there for five decades.”

Elephant Dies After Being Rescued From Concrete Pit, But Her Last Six Months Were Joyous

“[Elephants] do a really good job of hiding their trauma,” Blais explained. “They have a way of compartmentalizing that suffering. They find a way to tolerate it […] and they come out with such a resounding resilience.”

A resilience they shouldn’t have to endure in the first place. Blais also reported that Guillermina’s behavior changed for the better upon arriving at the sanctuary.

“[Guillermina’s] relationship with her mom changed dramatically in the months she was here,” said Blais. “She stopped being aggressive, she started being kind, she started being much more nurturing to her mom […] These elephants that have been labeled as antisocial or aggressive, it’s just not who they are here.”

After Pocha’s death, sanctuary staff witnessed Guillermina mourning for her mother. Apparently, she’s been taking her grief and frustration out on a bucket she took from other elephants. According to a report from Newsweek, she later gave the bucket back. The other elephants join Guillermina in the yard where the sanctuary buried Pocha. They gather around her at night to comfort her.

Elephants are highly social and extremely intelligent. Something like parental death affects them just like it affects humans. “They mourn their dead just like us,” Blais commented.