Pachyderm geriatric care
As the sun sets: Taking care of old elephants at Wildlife SOS
The Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, Mathura, jointly run by Wildlife SOS and the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department,has been a force to reckon with as the NGO continues to dedicatedly work to rescue and rehabilitate elephants from horrific conditions of abuse and neglect. With abundance of green fields, soft mud, and nutritious diet suitable for them, these elephants don’t just come to a rehabilitation center, they come home – a home that they deserve and a home that becomes synonymous to freedom.
These rescued elephants have lived a life of torture and abuse that has not only left scars and unhealed wounds, but have also etched into their memories a lifetime of trauma. As elephants do not forget easily, it is no less than a moment of defeat that these magnificent animals have to live their entire lives unable to forget the pain that was inflicted upon them for the greed of humans.
After having spent most of their life at the brutal command of a bull hook (ankush) and the stinging pain of the bull hook piercing their skin, it is very important to ensure that the older elephants under the organisation’s care receive the care and attention that is necessary for them. Living fifty or sixty years with little or no care, no proper diet to suit their aging needs and no medical treatment rendered to their gradually healing wounds, the pitiable condition of elephants in need of geriatric care was the need of the hour and the topmost priority.
For older elephants, signs of aging are easy to identify as their cheeks go in making prominent depression on either side of the face. Along with this, geriatric elephants have their molars worn down, thus making them unable to chew the food properly hence, we try and give them more of soft food items such as soft grass and more quantity of cooked concentrate, compared to other elephants. They are given special feed additives with multi-vitamin and mineral mixtures, as well as immune-boosters to keep their metabolism processes and immunity levels healthy. At 70, Suzyis the oldest female elephant under Wildlife SOS’ care and is at complete loss of vision in both her eyes. Owing to the loss of her molars when she spent her life at the circus for the entertainment of people, it breaks one’s heart to imagine how her health would have been compromised when these needs were not properly attended to.Now as Suzy stands under the warm winter sun, next to her friend, Asha, gulping down her favorite fruit, watermelon, which is made into a smooth pulp for her easy consumption, it is heartening to watch her receive the love and care she rightly deserves.
For Gajraj, a 74 year old tusker who spent his entire life as a temple elephant walking around on blazing tarmac roads, the deplorable condition of his feet speaks volumes as his foot pads have rotten thin to a point where his sole has become a painful pink color. This is extremely dangerous for an elephant when pierced by even a small pebble or thorn, it could result in a dangerous infection, inflammation, or an abscess that would be extremely difficult to treat due to its location underfoot.A sole-guard, specially imported from the US was the blessing in disguise for Gajraj as it formed a protective layer on his foot that saved exposure from moisture and debris that could worsen his condition. Gajraj is also given warm oil massages which prevents his feet from cracking in winters, and foot baths of turmeric and zinc-oxide, which acts as an antiseptic for his foot abscess. For the geriatric elephants, these warm oil massages are extremely relaxing as the prevent dryness and have healing properties.The open spaces at the Elephant Conservation and Care Center also become extremely cold in winters as bitter winds blow, therefore, halogen bulbs are installed in our elephants’ enclosures to keep them warm, along with tarpaulin coverings so that they are safeguarded from the winds.
Caring for elephants in the way they truly and rightly deserve is what drives Wildlife SOS’ cause forward to newer heights each day, as we look into the eyes of our ever-growing family of elephants, and watch them stretch their trunks to take a whiff of what smells like freedom, of what smells like home.