The elephant peering over the walls of the truck makes quite a sight for the people zooming by in their cars. Her trunk occasionally sniffs the air as if to check what progress the vehicle has made on its cross-country journey towards the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, Mathura. Mia has little idea where she is headed, or what lies in store for her. For now, she’s just comfortable in the carrier of India’s first Elephant Ambulance.
Wildlife SOS’ elephant rescue project started with the rescue of Champa, a begging elephant, in 2009. Since then, we have rescued 18 more elephants from abominable conditions of abuse and neglect and given them a better, safer life at our rescue centres in Mathura and Haryana.
But the road to freedom has been a bumpy one for our rescued pachyderms, and the trucks hired for the purpose of transporting these animals from the area of their rescue to the safe haven at ECCC haven’t always been ideal for the journey.
The journeys are long and tiresome, the terrain sometimes undulating and hard to navigate. Unpredictable weather conditions only add to the woes of the rescue team trying their best to get these amazing animals safely to their new home.
We needed to made these rescue journeys safer for the animals and less cumbersome for the rescue team. When a kind hearted family from the USA lent a helping hand, offering to sponsor the construction of an ambulance ideal for the transport of elephants across the varied Indian topography and weather.
With its specially designed carrier and inclined roof, automatic electric hydraulic ramp, showers, dual power supply and a designated room for the veterinary team with washing and treatment preparation area, India’s first elephant ambulance is ready to head out and change some lucky elephants’ lives.
An inauguration ceremony was organised at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation & Care Centre, Mathura, and the decorated truck was dispatched on its maiden journey, amidst the best wishes of the staff and keepers at the centre.
The inaugural journey was fitting- speeding out to pick up the two newest members of the rescued herd at ECCC who are also the latest additions to the list of rescues under our circus elephant campaign. Mia and Sita, both around fifty years old, spent decades performing in a circus accumulating a host of medical problems over the years.
Mia is the more spirited of the two but is developing cataracts in her eyes. Her gait is awkward and unsteady owing to the painful inflammations in her hind feet and the abscesses in her toenails. The more mild-mannered Sita is in no lesser need of veterinary intervention. An old fracture in her right front leg was never given a chance to heal properly, causing it to fuse in such a way that she can no longer bend the limb. Her left front leg is hyperextended, putting pressure on the foot, which has led to cracks and abscesses similar to Mia’s. Because of these problems, Sita has likely been unable to lie down or get any rest properly in over a year.
The ambulance rumbles into the state of Tamil Nadu towards the district of Thiruvanmiyur, towards two elephants that haven’t realised that their lives are about to change for good.
As it slows to a halt amidst the rolling hills of India’s Eastern Ghats, the elephants are led out of their circus sheds and coaxed on board with treats and encouraging words from the rescue team, just as the darkening sky explodes into a steady downpour of cold rain. As the elephants enjoy the cool water trickling down their massive frames, the rescue team struggles to get the vehicles through the steadily thickening mire. Their ingenuity, complemented by the special design of the ambulance, helps ease them out of the mud and on the road to freedom. The ambulance slowly picks up pace and heads back towards the north of India, towards the elephants’ new home at the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, towards freedom.