Feature

Mara prepares for her daily nap in her outside enclosure at the Buenos Aires Ecopark. Mara is a 54 year old Asian elephant that was born in India and lived most of her life in captivity. When the Rodas Circus went bankrupt in 1995 she was taken to the former zoo of Buenos Aires, now Ecoparque, where she lived with two african elephants that are still there.The former zoo is one of the oldest original Victorian zoos in the world. The elephants enclosure known as the Hindu temple of Elephants was built in 1904 as a replica of the Hindu Temple of Elephants in Bombay. ©Sofia Lopez Mañan

Sofía López Mañan

Having graduated in Fine Arts nine years ago, Sofía López Mañán (Argentina) decided to incorporate photography as a means of self-expression alongside drawing, sculpture and painting. Her personal work is based on the deconstruction of the social issues. She approached her first projects from a more personal, visceral as well as intuitive place.

For the past  several years she’s been working in environmental conservation projects. The revelations, the questions and the mystery of nature led her to work on the relationship with it. Not to represent it, but perhaps to represent us. Nature is still a human interpretation. Unravelling this relationship between the natural and the unnatural is what drives her today.

Thanks to her personal projects, she received several scholarships among them; the National Geographic Covid Emergency Fund 2020, Joop Swart Master Class 2019 and National Geographic Grant 2019. She was awarded by Gomma UK magazine in the New Talents contest and was a finalist in the Petrobras Award.

Her works have been exhibited in Argentina and overseas. She has also participated in numerous art fairs like; Art Santander, Swab, Lima Photo, Buenos Aires Photo and Arco stand out.

El Gran Viaje de Mara

Mara is a 55  year old Asian elephant that arrived at the former Buenos Aires Zoo, now Ecoparque, after a judicial seizure of the Rodás Circus in 1995. 

One of the intentions of transforming the Zoo into an Ecoparque was to change the image of the Victorian zoo into an animal conservation project. For the last 5 years most of the exotic animals have started to be derived  to other zoos or sanctuaries around the world. 

Mara while working in the South American Circus in the 70´s decade in Mar del Plata, Argentina.

Mara is one of the most emblematic animals in Argentina and the idea of her life in a semi freedom elephant sanctuary in the Brazilian Matto Grosso was going to be a big government achievement.

Moving an elephant in the 21st Century is not easy.  It took almost 5 years to have all the paperwork in order for her transfer. In total, they are carrying out a 135-step plan for Mara’s relocation, which includes everything from veterinary studies, getting used to the box and physical preparation for the trip. 

Her original transfer consisting of; 6 day travel, 2700 km and 20 people working in a non-stop journey, was suppose to be place in March 2020. However, Covid-19 quarantine started in Argentina just a week before and for obvious reasons everything was cancelled. 

The government decided to transfer Mara on May 8th. If moving an elephant before was difficult, now is almost impossible. It is not only the animal’s safety at risk, but all the people that are moving with her. Most of the vets and caregivers weren’t able to cross the border to Brazil.  In the end, only four people were authorised to continue the trip with Mara all the way to the sanctuary.

This is a project supported by National Geographic Covid-19 Emergency Fund for Journalist.

A profile of Mara in her outside enclosure in the Buenos Aires Ecopark. Since African and Asians elephants have very different tempers, both; the African elephants and Mara aren’t able to share the same space so they take turns to go outside. More than two decades ago Mara threw one of the two africans into the pit and since then they were never together again. ©Sofia Lopez Mañan
An aerial view of the elephants enclosure in the Buenos Aires Ecopark known as; Hindu Temple of Elephants. The site was built in 1904 and is a copy of a Hindu Temple in Bombay, India. ©Sofia Lopez Mañan
The transfer elephant with Mara inside is lifted up from her outside enclosure in the Buenos Aires Ecopark and placed over a truck that will drive her 2700 km to the Brasilian Mato Grosso. At 17hs she went into the box, by 19hs we were leaving the Ecopark. ©Sofia Lopez Mañan
In Brasilian Costums in Foz de Iguazú. We waited in a truck parking lot because some paperwork was needed to be completed before the elephant could enter Brazil. Due to the amount of people in the area only the front door of the box was opened for Mara to eat and drink. ©Sofia Lopez Mañan
Map of South America showing Mara’s journey.
Midday stop in Yapeyú, province of Corrientes, Argentina. Mara looks through a little side window she has at eye level in her transfer box. Outside in the closed gas station there is a lot of human movement and she looks curiously. ©Sofia Lopez Mañan
Mid-day stop in Yapeyú, province of Corrientes, Argentina. Mara is fed with some watermelon by one of her caregivers. ©Sofia Lopez Mañan
At dawn Argentine customs in Puerto Iguazú in the province of Misiones. The caregivers stayed up all night with Mara. She likes being pampered on her butt so both Florencia and Marcos would do it to keep her confortable. ©Sofia Lopez Mañan
Dawn in a gas station in Dourados, Mato Grosso Do Sul Brasil. At 3.30 in the morning we arrived at a hotel by the road in the city of Dourados, Mato Grosso do Sul. As the gas station was closed we were able to park the truck with the elephant at its side. We went to sleep and by 5.30 we were up. Scott Blais, the owner of Elephants Sanctuary Brasil slept in the car taking care of Mara.
Arriving at the Elephant Sanctuary in the Chapada de Guimaraes, Mato Grosso, Brazil. ©Sofia Lopez Mañan
The transfer box with Mara inside is lifted and placed in an outside enclosure. ©Sofia Lopez Mañan
The transfer box with Mara inside is lifted and placed in an outside enclosure. ©Sofia Lopez Mañan
We stopped the truck at a police station in San Gabriel do Oeste, Mato Grosso. It was raining. Scott goes to the side of the road to cut a bunch of canes to feed Mara. ©Sofia Lopez Mañan
The transfer box with Mara inside is lifted and placed in an outside enclosure. The door is opened and she can leave and explore that small area at her speed. The color of elephants is the color of the soil where they live. As soon as she got out of the box she started throwing soil over her body. They do this to regulate temperature and to groom their skin from parasites. ©Sofia Lopez Mañan
Mara is under a tree that she likes to scratch with in the Elephant Sanctuary in Brasil. ©Sofia Lopez Mañan

To see more of Sofía’s work, here


Sofía López Mañan

Es licenciada en artes visuales y estudió dirección de arte publicitaria, fotografía documental y periodística y dirección de fotografía para cine. Como fotógrafa editorial ha colaborado con NY Times, Rolling Stone, Brando, G7 y Lugares, entre otros medios gráficos.

Gracias a sus proyectos autorales, recibió varias becas; entre ellas la de Joop Swart Master Class 2019, National Geographic Grant 2019, Foundry Photojournalism Workshop y Buenos Aires Photo workshop. Fue premiada por la revista Gomma UK en el concurso Nuevos Talentos y resultó finalista en el premio Petrobras.

Sus trabajos se vieron en muestras nacionales e internaciones. También ha participó en numerosas ferias, entre las que se destacan Art Santander, Swab, Lima Photo, Buenos Aires Photo y Arco.

Hoy trabaja activamente en proyectos de conservación del medio ambiente.

El Gran Viaje de Mara

Mara es un elefante asiático de 55 años que llegó al antiguo zoológico de Buenos Aires, Argetina – ahora Ecoparque – después de una incautación judicial del circo Rodás en 1995.

Una de las intenciones de transformar el zoológico en un Ecoparque era cambiar la imagen del zoológico victoriano en un proyecto de conservación de animales. Durante los últimos 5 años, la mayoría de los animales exóticos han comenzado a derivarse a otros zoológicos o santuarios en todo el mundo. Mara es uno de los animales más emblemáticos de Argentina, y, la idea de su vida en un santuario de elefantes de semi-libertad en el santuario brasileño; Matto Grosso, iba a ser un gran logro del gobierno argetino.

Mover un elefante en el siglo XXI no es fácil. A Mara le tomó casi 5 años tener todo el papeleo para su transferencia. En total, están llevando a cabo un plan de 135 pasos para la reubicación de Mara, que incluye todo, desde estudios veterinarios, acostumbrarse a la caja y la preparación física para el viaje. Su fecha de transferencia fue el 30 de marzo de 2020; recorrido de 6 días, 2700 km y 20 personas trabajando en un viaje sin parar. Sin embargo, la cuarentena Covid-19 comenzó en Argentina una semana antes y, por razones obvias, todo fue cancelado.

El gobierno decidió transferir a Mara el 8 de mayo. Si mover un elefante antes era difícil, ahora es casi imposible. No solo está en riesgo la seguridad del animal, sino todas las personas que se mueven con ella. La mayoría de los veterinarios y cuidadores no pudieron cruzar la frontera con Brasil. Solo cuatro de nosotros, un día antes de la partida, fuimos autorizados a continuar el viaje con Mara hasta el santuario.

Para saber más de los proyectos de Sofía, aquí