Dozing polar bear, Indianapolis Zoo

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Sancho, revisited

It's been a little more than three months since I first saw Raising Sancho. I wrote about it then with no idea how many people Sancho would bring to this blog, including Carolina Vargas. (Those of you landing here for the first time from a search engine can go here to read those posts. Start at the bottom, and don't forget the comments, as Carolina has left comments on several of the posts.) Nor did it occur to me then that the scene would be revisited every time the show airs again. And the BBC aired it this weekend, and people from the U.K. and elsewhere in Europe have been visiting all week, as well as some from Asia.

And the scene replays itself. The queries come in fast and furious, the exact same ones I plugged in when I was frantically looking for an update after the show: "Sancho found," "Carolina Vargas blog," or the more desperate "Sancho giant otter Pantanal Carolina Vargas." Everyone is sad and torn up about the ending, but on one issue they split down the middle like a overripe peach -- what really happened to Sancho?

Some say they can just feel it in their gut that Sancho was a victim of a predator, or didn't make it for some other reason. And the reason they cite is that they feel certain that, given the bond between Sancho and Carolina, Sancho would have returned to Carolina at some point in the following three months after he left. After all, he would only swim a short distance from her side in the underwater scenes, never venturing too far before returning to her to check in.

This was, as a matter of fact, my exact opinion after watching the show. Through our tears, Mr. T and I agreed that the odds were heavily against such a bonded animal just up and leaving Carolina, the one other creature in the world to whom he was most powerfully attached.

But my opinion now is the exact reverse. In part that opinion is based on the facts Carolina laid out here: Sancho left at the beginning of the dry season, when otters will often follow the fish to the main water channel. He left after becoming acquainted with a pair of wild otters. He was nine months old, and otters of that age will occasionally just leave their families for long periods of time. And then, of course, the statement that sticks out most powerfully: "Some tour guides that work in the area where Sancho used to live told me that he was around...."

But what about that powerful bond?

Regular readers will recall that my view of the animal-human bond has been publicly developing on this blog. I wrote about it here, and here, both times in the context of my pet dogs. And I think my original belief that surely Sancho would have returned to Carolina, or not left in the first place, is an example of anthropomorphizing Sancho. (For those reading whose first language is not English and may not know, anthropomorphizing means to attribute human characteristics to animals.) I started to formulate this idea in a comment I wrote on one of the Sancho posts:

I understand your point, I really do. But after thinking about it for a long time, I think we may be expecting too much from the bond between Sancho and Carolina.

I think Sancho bonded with Carolina as his mother. Strong as it was, that bond could have eventually been broken even if Carolina had been an otter mother, by Sancho striking out on his own. (I do know that giant otters frequently stay with their family group, but they also sometimes break off to form their own, new family groups.)

Once I stopped looking at their bond in purely human terms and considered the other circumstances, it seemed much more likely that Sancho had simply grown up and done what many otters of his age do, which is to leave their family unit, sometimes for a long time, and sometimes forever.

In short, I think Sancho was being an otter. And I think he was able to do that because Carolina loved him enough to treat him as an otter.

In the posts linked above, I argue that people who view their animals as their children are bringing animals too far into their human world, and failing to venture enough into the animal world. Carolina's and Sancho's relationship is the opposite. Carolina did not bring Sancho too far into her world; rather, she ventured into the otter world as Sancho's surrogate mother.

This is strikingly evident in her refusal to keep him in captivity. She paid a high price emotionally for that decision, but it was a decision that honored Sancho, and saw him clearly for what he was: an otter. I think, for me, that is at the heart of why their relationship touched me so much. It was so deeply meaningful because Carolina gave so much of herself so Sancho could be an otter. Whether he lived or died, he would do so as an otter. It was a profoundly truthful relationship.

That is beautiful. And rare.

37 comments:

Judy said...

Hi there Trailerhead

I am not really familiar with posting comments on blog pages, but felt I had to after watching ‘Raising Sancho’. The programme moved and touched me so deeply after I saw it Sunday evening, so much so that I have not stopped thinking about it and, I know this probably sounds over the top, but I actually feel grief…..

Trailerhead – your comments posted yesterday 15th January 2008 were so beautifully and eloquently put – I felt a little more hopeful after reading it.

I agree with your comments about attributing human emotions to animals – we all do it, I run an animal charity (www.flicka.org.uk) and we do it all the time, but Sancho was ‘instinctively’ a wild animal and his bond with Carolina, I also believe, was that of a mother, whether human or otter. I do hope and believe that Sancho striking out was also attributed to the fact that, unlike so many other otter cubs, he did not have a ‘family unit’, but just a mother who was trying to ‘let go’. So for him to make his way in his world he had to follow his innate instincts and food. After all, wild animal instincts are so strong, they are governed by survival. Carolina did such a great job with him, her love and dedication shone through, I doubt I could ever have had the strength to ‘let go’. One part of the programme I did not see was how many days/weeks was Carolina leaving Sancho on his own during the day?

My heart went out to Carolina at the end, it was so sad….and NO I definitely do not think Sancho should have been placed in a zoo. If there was a logistical way Carolina could have ‘kept him’ that would have been great, but I think the arising problems from that may have been insurmountable……his size and food quantities.

Sancho is beautiful, he had such appeal, that gorgeous face and heart rendering cry which made the whole parting thing so hard to bear. I hope and pray he is out there somewhere, and I choose to believe that the tour guides ‘did’ see him – this is the only way I can deal with the ‘programme’. It would be absolutely wonderful if Carolina returned one day to find him, and wouldn’t it be fantastic if she did in fact see him – what elation!!!

God bless Sancho, he touched the lives of so many of us, but more so, the life of Carolina Vargas, and thank you Carolina for sharing a wonderful experience with so many people. I vote that Sancho is still out there….being a ‘Giant Otter’!

I shall now carry on thinking about him………………probably forever!!

Thank you for letting me share your page.

Judy

Judy said...

Gosh....apologies 'Trailhead'....trust me to use the wrong name - I said I wasn't used to blog pages!!!!

Judy said...

By the way...I am going to write a little bit about 'Sancho' in our next 'Flicka Foundation' newsletter and direct our supporters to this site. I think it should be mentioned, not only as an animal interst story, but, to highlight another endangered species which I am sure not many people knew existed. Dear Sancho - what he has done to us.........

Trailhead said...

Judy, I didn't even notice the "Trailherhead", but once you pointed it out, it gave me a good laugh. No worries.

I don't recall how many days he had been spending on his own before he left, but if Carolina checks back in, maybe she'll tell us.

Thanks so much for your comments, Judy, and now I'm going to check out your animal charity's website.

chittraporn said...

Judy and Trailhead..
Tears ran down my face again.. He must have been so sad and scared when he was on his own..

Probably.... it's about time to agree with Judy's post that "Sancho is still out there….being a Giant Otter"

It made me feel a bit better... Anyhow, I'll come in to your blog and check if any updates here..

Stitch said...

Hi Trailhead and Judy

After watching the programme on the BBC last Sunday, I believe that Sancho is living out there somewhere fit and well, hopefully with his own family. I believe this even more after reading your posts - thank you. I did feel quite upset at the beginning of the week because the bond between him and Carolina was so great that she must be feeling it more than any of us. I love watching wildlife programmes, especially ones like this where a baby has been rescued, rehabilitated and allowed to be put back to the wild. Since watching this I have been on to the International Otter Survival Fund website and would like to get involved in supporting projects to protect these beautiful animals.

Amanda

Judy said...

I just had to add another post - to perhaps add credence to the fact that 'Sancho' is still enjoying life. Because I became so besotted with him I have read alot about Giant Otters, whilst they are an endangered species due to 'ecology' and 'mans' intervention - on Wikipedia it does state that they have very few natural predators, I also read that fishing is prohibited in the Pantanal Wetlands. The other item that registered with me was that the tour guides said he was still around - a single male - this would also be correct as Giant Otters don't reach sexual maturity until between 2 and 3 years of age, so 'Sancho' would indeed still be a batchelor!!

I do so hope that Dr Carolina Vargas checks in here again - I also ferverently hope that she may return to the Pantanal, then we can look out for another programme on TV - The Natural World and 'Finding Sancho' - I live in hope!!!

Sorry to go on - but this is what the lovely fellow has done to me, imagine how Carolina feels......

Take care all xx

Judy said...

.....oh dear - did I really spell bachelor like that ...!! :-)

Sooty said...

Like many others, I found this site whilst Googling for news of Sancho after watching the show on the BBC a couple of weeks ago.

I was disappointed to find no news of a happy ending for Sancho (whilst also being a little annoyed with myself for expecting one), but I'm glad that so many other people were moved by Sancho's story, and that this has led to an interest in giant otter conservation. We'll probably never find out what did happen to Sancho, but since so many other animals just like Sancho are in danger and are not fortunate enough to have someone as dedicated as Carolina Vargas to care for them, we have a chance to help make their futures brighter. I'm going to check out the links you posted in your blogs about this, and hopefully lots of other people will do the same.

I also want to echo the views of other people here by saying what a wonderful, dedicated, caring person Carolina is!

Mike L said...

I teared up (just a tad mind you)reading your revisiting of the Sancho experience. I wonder if humans tie emotion with bond(s) more then others?

Then when you look at it from the persepctive of research you clearly see the matter in differant light.


Our baby Maine coon - THE PEECH also know as the Binkinator is closing in on her 2nd (in human years) birthday and is aprox 3x larger then our 10 year old (in human years) Maybelline.

jim-irie said...

just so you know Raising Sancho is on bbc1 again on 24th january at 02:40. I thought this was an incredible programme and it really touched me, I hadn't cried for years and years but I sobbed my heart out when I saw it.
the environment has become more and more important to me in recent years but it can be quite intimidating to try and think about raising money for environmental projects as the world is a big place, Sancho has inspired me to raise money for projects that work in the amazon and the pantanal, thankyou trailhead for contacting Carolina and providing excellent info on where to donate money.
It's amazing to see how many people have seen the programme and commented here, just think what difference we could make if we all raised some money for conservation work in these areas - I know it would certainly make me feel better.
I have recorded the programme and will always treasure it!

Trailhead said...

Hi everyone. Lots of great thoughts here.

I just moved to a new home in another state, and my internet access is miserably sporadic! I have a few minutes left in an internet cafe right now, and I won't have time to respond in depth to everyone's posts until tonight. But I'm still checking in, and I'm grateful for everyone's feedback. I'll probably have more thoughts to post later on. Thanks for your comments.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

Hello Trailhead and all other readers.
Let me introduce myself, my name is Francine,64 year old woman living in Belgium.So English is not my native language and i'am not used to blog.
Sorry for the mistakes in my writing.
On januari 13/2008 i have seen ""only a part" of the documentary "raising sancho" and i was very thouched by it.
Since then i'am looking for the video or DVD of this documentary but without any success.
Maybe someone of you can help me out (Jim-Irie?)of course i will pay for the expenses.
Many thanks

Anonymous said...

"For those reading whose first language is not English and may not know, anthropomorphizing means to attribute human characteristics to animals"

Hey, English is my 1st language and I don't know what
anthropomorphizing means .

Usin all them big fancy words!

-Toots-

Francine said...

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Anonymous said...

Does anyone have a copy of this programme on DVD. I saw it on the BBC and would so much like my wife to see it. Can anyone else? Thanks Mike

Badders said...

I recorded the episode of Sanchos on SKY. Three days before I bought a DVD recorder, my SKY crashed and I lost Sanchos. I've trawled the net, unsuccessfully to find a DVD. If anyone knows where I can get one please let me know. Otherwise I'll be watching every nature programme in the hope that it is repeated. Thanks, Badders.

Trailhead said...

Badders, good luck. I wish they would come out with a DVD already!

Carolina Vargas said...

Dear Trailhead,
you really caught the idea when you say:
In short, I think Sancho was being an otter. And I think he was able to do that because Carolina loved him enough to treat him as an otter.

In the posts linked above, I argue that people who view their animals as their children are bringing animals too far into their human world, and failing to venture enough into the animal world. Carolina's and Sancho's relationship is the opposite. Carolina did not bring Sancho too far into her world; rather, she ventured into the otter world as Sancho's surrogate mother.

This is strikingly evident in her refusal to keep him in captivity. She paid a high price emotionally for that decision, but it was a decision that honored Sancho, and saw him clearly for what he was: an otter.
What a proper comment!
Everytime I read your blog I receive an overdose of entusiasm to keep doing my job; Thank you all for your words, you have no idea how it touches me and gives me power to go on!
Kind regards, Carolina. ;)

Trailhead said...

Carolina, you wrote: Everytime I read your blog I receive an overdose of entusiasm to keep doing my job; Thank you all for your words, you have no idea how it touches me and gives me power to go on!

I'm so glad to hear this, because Sancho's story, your comments here and the comments of others have given me so much inspiration and motivation to do certain things. I've realized how much I love writing about and photographing animals and wildlife.

It's lovely that all of us can trade these good things, isn't it? It's amazing to me that this bond between one otter and one human has had such a wide impact beyond the vast Pantanal. This is the kind of thing that gives me hope for the health of the planet.

All the best to you, Carolina. I always enjoy your comments so much! Writing about Sancho -- and reading everyone's comments about him and the show -- are my very favorite parts of this blog.

Anonymous said...

I believe that I did make a DVD recording of the show a while back, will need to try and locate it and check back here if there's still interest.

Anonymous said...

Looks like you can watch/download it from here (might require signup to watch/view full video).

http://www.veoh.com/videos/v6602390YcGCr7tr

Friska Streeter, L.M.T. said...

I just saw the show today. I tell you, I have never cried watching nature show. But this one is really sad. What happen to Sancho? I like your theory better, that he is healthy and alive and just follow the stream of fishes. I want to get a hold of Carolina, I want to know if she ever reunited with Sancho.

emmyjaywako said...

Sancho and Carolina have inspired me to continue my degree and keep my eye the goal and the bigger picture. Restoring my faith and love of conservation and animals, and in captive breeding programmes, in how much we can actually help and make a difference in animals lives whilst maintaining it the way nature created it, and how much we can learn one to one with nature. 2 days ago i have been awarded a 2:1 in BSC with honours degree in Conservation Biology and I have a Zoological Conservation Foundation Degree. I have learnt so much over my time at uni but questioned why i was there because you shouldn'nt need to have a degree in order to find something as special as Carolina did. I have now finished with studying and i am ready to get out into the world and i hope and prey one day i will be as lucky as Carolina with a similar opportunity with any species of animal and do as great of a job as she did with Sancho. Learn so much and gain so much which can help a species and hopefully help to secure their future, have an amazing opportunity to learn about the young life stages which we cannot learn about through observation, which could be vital for conservation projects, and at an individual level and achieve my life ambitions and true happiness. I now need to go out into the world and grasp any opportunities that are offered to me. And thought perhaps if i put my email address on here emmyjaywako@hotmail.co.uk that if someone may have some sort of project or conservation goal or needs an volunteer or extra pair of hands and could offer me an opportunity to start my life as a conservationist, i would be extremely grateful for an email. have watched this documentary about 5 times in the past 5 years to keep me motivated to finish my degree, and cried almost all the way through it each time with happyness and sadness and felt restored or my inspiration

emmyjaywako said...

Sancho and Carolina have inspired me to continue my degree and keep my eye the goal and the bigger picture. Restoring my faith and love of conservation and animals, and in captive breeding programmes, in how much we can actually help and make a difference in animals lives whilst maintaining it the way nature created it, and how much we can learn one to one with nature. 2 days ago i have been awarded a 2:1 in BSC with honours degree in Conservation Biology and I have a Zoological Conservation Foundation Degree. I have learnt so much over my time at uni but questioned why i was there because you shouldn'nt need to have a degree in order to find something as special as Carolina did. I have now finished with studying and i am ready to get out into the world and i hope and prey one day i will be as lucky as Carolina with a similar opportunity with any species of animal and do as great of a job as she did with Sancho. Learn so much and gain so much which can help a species and hopefully help to secure their future, have an amazing opportunity to learn about the young life stages which we cannot learn about through observation, which could be vital for conservation projects, and at an individual level and achieve my life ambitions and true happiness. I now need to go out into the world and grasp any opportunities that are offered to me. And thought perhaps if i put my email address on here emmyjaywako@hotmail.co.uk that if someone may have some sort of project or conservation goal or needs an volunteer or extra pair of hands and could offer me an opportunity to start my life as a conservationist, i would be extremely grateful for an email. have watched this documentary about 5 times in the past 5 years to keep me motivated to finish my degree, and cried almost all the way through it each time with happyness and sadness and felt restored or my inspiration

emmyjaywako said...

I have truly been inspired by Carolina and Sancho and have watched the documentary countless times now, whilst I was studying for my Zoology Conservation foundation degree, and studying for my conservation biology degree it has provided me with motivation and hope. I have now completed my studies and I graduate next month (September 17th 2012) . I am now desperately trying to find an opportunity to become a research volunteer, to study giant otters in the wild and help to conserve them and I am hoping by writing this message someone might see it and put me in touch with someone that can help me follow my dream. My email address is emmyjaywako@hotmail.co.uk and I hope to become part of a research team and contribute to help save this truly amazing, beautiful and intriguing species and do whatever we can to safe guard its future. I would love to hear from anyone who may have some contacts or email addresses of the people I need to speak to. Perhaps even Carolina herself might be able to point me in the right direction. Thankyou for reading this and fingers crossed someone might get back to me soon 

Anonymous said...

Yes, just watched the show in Ireland on RTE2 and immediately Googled to see if he survived..
Gordon

Anonymous said...

Carolina and Sancho's relationship was captured wonderfully on film in a sensitive non-intrusive manner. Felt I was there in that setting enjoying Sancho's company. Thank you Carolina and thank you BBC for sharing this with us. Hope and pray that Sancho turns up one day to introduce Carolina to his family.

Harry Wagstaff said...

Obviously i thought the same thing that he would have returned to carolina, but also gathering from the fact that even tho he was brought up like a giant otter family would,the best carolina could, he still was brought up alone and in different environments at times. He was always going to lead a different life from the rest,as do we. Giant otters have a life style ritual (stay with the family, learn, learn to socialize, learn to catch) all with their family. having done that in without his kind, he was always going to think differently and start life in a different way.

Harry Wagstaff said...

But truly inspiring carolina! cried myself! i hope you find him happy with a great wife ;) x

pjklondon said...

I believe in Sancho...

Anonymous said...

A year later and I have watch sancho wondering if he is out there. Also a tearful end and I hope he is out there somewhere.

ali justali said...

Just spent half an hour sobbing over the 'Sancho' documentary shown in the UK today, reminded me so much of the various wild creatures I've rescued and released over many years. I came online hoping to find an update and saw your piece above which makes such sense, I found it very comforting - spot-on with your theories of his behaviour.

Programmes like that, and follow-ups such as yours give me hope that enough people do still care about nature enough to counterbalance the awful way some of mankind mistreats our precious planet.

Anglo-Saxon man said...

Hi all
yeah I've just watched the program also and fell in love with Sancho
Do hope the young Plucky fella is alive and well and got his own family, he had a very good start thanks to Carolina hopefully the he learnt from the attack by caiman like everybody else and I would love to know what happened to him
Ps program is on bbci

Jake Thomas said...

Hi,
My name is Jake Thomas and today I have watched part of the Raising Sancho episode of natural world. Firstly I would like to say that it was a truly magnificent episode, seeing the bond between human and animal was just so moving. I know this is wrong but part of me actually wished that Carolina and Sancho could have spent a lifetime together because just seeing them happy was just so beautiful. The second thing I wanted to ask was if anyone knew if Sancho ever survived and was ever found, and if so did Carolina ever see him again? I really do hope that he is still alive, I know it was aired in 2008 and it is now 2017 but Otters can live up to the age of 16 so he could still be alive. If anyone knows anything could they let me know asap!
Thank you so much and all your comments are so kind and caring it is a privilege to read!
Thank you! ��

Ben Richardson said...

Raising Sancho aired on BBC2 yesterday and moved me to tears. Would love an update from Carolina on what she's up to and whether Sancho was ever found.