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.