Scott Blais Co-Founder, with his wife Katherine Blais, of Global Sanctuary For Elephants is on a mission to give captive elephants the prospect of living out the remaining years of their lives in peace, and the comfort of a sanctuary environment with his non-profit Global Sanctuary For Elephants. In this archival interview Scott shares the story of his humble beginnings and the wrongs (against captive elephants) he felt he had to make right. In the elephants, Scott had found a kindred spirit and with each elephant he helped along on their journey to healing he was brought closer to his true self.
But that fate had been sealed many years earlier when his work with elephants had begun. “It just clicked”, Blais said and he has been on that path ever since. The following interview shares the empathy he has for elephants, his genuine love of helping captive elephants, in many cases abused from many years serving as performing elephants. And the neverending hurdles he endures to provide a place, a sanctuary to help these captive elephants heal.
This is Scott Blias’ story which led to the rebirth of hope for the elephants that the Global Sanctuary For Elephants (GSE) was soon to rescue and that GSE continues to rescue to this day.
The following is transcribed from Pet Life Radio. The Awesome Animal Advocates with host Keith Sanderson (& Max A. Pooch) Interview with Scott Blais entitled “Elephants in Brazil?”
Keith Sanderson: “Welcome animal lovers everywhere to Episode 67 of Awesome Animal Advocates on the Pet Life Radio Network. I am Keith Sanderson host and creator of Awesome Animal Advocates, the program where you will meet the doers, the leaders, the people who are making a difference for animals in your neighborhoods, counties and states and around the world.
You will learn how these amazing people became involved in doing what they are doing, why they spend time, money and long hours each day fighting to save the lives of and or improving, uh, the living conditions of companion or domestic or wild animals and more.
Today’s guest is Scott Blais, CEO & Board President of Global Sanctuary For Elephants. For more than 25 years Scott has worked with and for captive elephants. In 1995 he co-founded The Elephant Sanctuary located in Tennessee. It is the nation’s largest sanctuary dedicated exclusively to the rescue and recovery of captive elephants.
In 2013 Scott and his wife Kat, who is a former lead caregiver and veterinary liaison for Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary joined with renowned elephant experts Dr. Joyce Poole and Petter Granli of Elephant Voices to form Global Sanctuary For Elephants which is a non-profit dedicated to the development of new sanctuaries for captive elephants worldwide.
We will meet Scott in a moment and learn what spurred him to become an advocate for captive elephants and the exciting work he is doing today but first a word from our sponsors…
Welcome back to Awesome Animal Advocates. I am your host Keith Sanderson and meet our guest Scott Blais, CEO & Board President of Global Sanctuary For Elephants. Welcome, Scott. Thank you for being with us today.”
Scott Blais: “Good morning, Keith, and thank you. It is an honor to be here and (I am) happy to share a little bit more about our work and the exciting and dynamic life of captive elephants.”
Keith: “Well, you know, I am really interested in learning that… One of the things, Scott, when I read your biography, it said you you at 15 you were training elephants and then you realized the brutality and cruelty in training them and that is when you sort of really became involved in working with and caring for captive elephants. Can you tell us more about that?”
Scott: (laughs) “Yes, absolutely, I know how odd it sounds to say that you started working with elephants at 15 and people have all kinds of weird presumptions that jump to their head. I was a normal kid. I got a summertime job at a safari park in Canada when I was 13 years old and just cutting grass and parking cars and picking up garbage. And I started talking to the elephant trainers and they eventually offered me a job and it is just one of those fateful things in life where it just clicked, it just worked.
I adored being around the elephants, they resonated with me and through those years it was an incredible opportunity to learn a tremendous amount about elephants. We had a captive breeding program, we had elephants coming and going from zoos & circuses, sometimes just to stay there for a short time, sometimes to, uh, for a part of the breeding program. So, I got a vast amount of experience in multiple aspects of the captive elephant world with zoos and circuses. This is positive in that it gave me a really broad-based foundation as a… at a young age.
But the negative side was this was a dominant style of management so there was a lot of abuse, intimidation, a lot of force and brutality and it did not take that long for me, at a young age, to start saying, ‘Why are we doing this? This is not the way that we should be managing animals. It is not respectful. It is not kind. It is not healthy.’
And we started to… looking for an alternative, eventually this lead to the development of the Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee.”
Keith: “Well, you know, that is interesting because I I recall as a kid going to the circus and seeing the elephants and just supposing that, uh, that they were happy and then, um, seeing them in other venues. But do you believe circuses and other entertainment venues should, uh, be banned from having performing elephants?”
Scott: “Oh, without a doubt. Elephants need to stop performing, uh, and there is a couple of reasons for this. One is of course the brutality that is required, the dominance that is necessary to instill the the consistent behaviors, the cooperation.
You can do a phenomenal amount with elephants with cooperation, with positive reinforcement but it is not going to be the grueling schedule, the barbaric tricks. It is going to be simple cooperation for medical needs, things that they require and they seem to understand this quite clearly when you ask them to do something that they need versus asking them to do something that you want just for the sake of wanting it.
And to do the ‘what we want’ actually requires, again, a significant amount of brutality and it is impossible to convey the degree of brutality that exists. It is the common question of ‘how can you get an elephant to do what he does not want to do’.”
Keith: “I would assume that is even, maybe, getting into whatever carrier is transporting them from, uh, location to location… (laughs) I mean, uh, it probably does not even want to get into that, would he?”
Scott: “You know, it is not always the case. You know, a lot of times they do not necessarily mind. Sometimes they almost look forward to a little bit different scenario. But the reality is they know they have no choice, ultimately. You know, they know that they are forced to become resigned because of the depth of the brutality because the group beatings that these elephants endure from humans they are forced to resign to this life. So, even if they want to hold back, even if they want to say ‘No’ they know they ultimately do not have a strong say in the matter.
But the other reason we need to get elephants off the road is for our society, you know. We need to stop looking at animals as entertainment in general, whether it be elephants, horses or whatever it is. We have to start looking at them as having value just for who they are. And until we can ban performing animals and really move forward and appreciate their core values, their core being, our society is never going to fully advance.”
Keith: “That is interesting because, at least me personally, I would rather observe an animal maybe just a brief few seconds in nature. Like the other day we were up along the Tellico River here in Tennessee and we briefly viewed a couple of otters, just plain, you know, out in the wild and just enjoying themselves.
And that few minutes was way more than I would ever get out of seeing an otter, you know, captive in some little container in some place, where, you know, some animal, other wild animal, otter-like animal being used in an act. So, yeah, I can understand why you are saying that.
To Be Continued: Elephant Expert Shares His Amazing Story of His Life With Captive Elephants, His Appalling Discovery of the Mistreatment of Those Elephants and His Vow to Provide Sanctuary & Healing For Captive & Performing Elephants Worldwide : Part 2
How You Can Help: Donate to Global Sanctuary for Elephants