Rescued elephants celebrate decade of freedom at care centre

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By Brij Khandelwal
Agra, Nov 20 (IANS) Celebrating a decade of freedom, elephant couple Maya and Bijli on Friday enjoyed a grand feast at the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre in Farah on Agra-Mathura district borders.

The two spent many hard years in shackles till they were freed by the Wild Life SOS in cooperation with the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department in 2010.

A former circus trained elephant, Maya was forced to undergo a rigorous training schedule to learn entertaining tricks for the audience. On the other hand, her companion, 40-year-old Bijli, was used as a begging elephant in Uttar Pradesh.

A functionary of the Wild Life SOS said, “The life of a performing elephant is an oppressive one, where it is forced to perform unnatural tricks for people’s amusement. The elephants are starved and brutally beaten into submission as part of their indoctrination process. Maya would spend hours practicing standing on two legs or to carry circus performers on her back at the whip of a stick or sharp bullhook (‘ankush’). When not performing, she would be restrained by tight ropes and spiked chains around her limbs with no access to food or even clean drinking water.”

Years of overwork, abuse and neglect had not only left her with ailments such as swollen limbs, cracked toenails, and damaged footpads and cuticles with severe toenail
abscesses, but she also suffered from psychological trauma.

Shortly after her arrival at the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre (ECCC) in Mathura, Maya was introduced to an elephant named Phoolkali, and her presence has played a significant role in Maya’s decade-long recovery journey.

Bijli, the other elephant, was forced to beg for alms while walking on the hot tarmac roads in Uttar Pradesh. On one such occasion, she was hit by a speeding vehicle and the accident left her with a permanently damaged hind leg. In spite of having grave injuries, Bijli’s cruel owner continued to exploit her and neglected her wounds.

The timely intervention of the Forest Department and Wildlife SOS paved the way for Bijli’s freedom. With dedicated treatment to her damaged leg and overworked limbs, the injuries healed with time and her psychological healing was aided by the companionship of two elephants — Chanchal and Laxmi.

Today, under the constant care and treatment provided by the Wildlife SOS veterinarians and elephant care staff, both Maya and Bijli have been able to make remarkable progress. Maya now spends hours playing in her pool and going for long walks with her best friend Phoolkali. While, Bijli, whose name means lightning in Hindi, truly lives up to her name and is always keeping her companions and caregivers on their toes with her antics.

On Maya and Bijli’s 10th rescue anniversary, the Wildlife SOS team organised a lavish spread to mark the occasion. They were treated to a mouth-watering feast of bananas, watermelon, papayas and cucumber laced on a cake made of cooked pulses.

Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-founder and CEO of Wildlife SOS, said, “Maya and Bijli’s story highlights the condition of nearly 2,500 elephants in India who are beaten, starved, and used for begging, performances and weddings, or for giving joy rides to tourists. As we celebrate their decade-long journey with us, it is reassuring to see that our efforts have made a positive difference to their lives and we will continue to help more such elephants in distress.”

Baiju Raj M.V, Director-Conservation Projects, Wildlife SOS, said, “Captivity denies elephants the very basic necessities essential to their survival and well-being. It is a pleasure to see the difference that a few years of love and care can make to their lives. We are grateful to the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department for helping us provide Maya and Bijli with a second chance at a kinder, safer life.”

–IANS
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