Gajraj - Elephant

As concerned elephant lovers from around the world learned about Gajraj’s medical condition, thousands of requests for Wildlife SOS to intervene and help him poured in. We then sent a team of Wildlife SOS elephant veterinarians to visit Gajraj and conduct a physical assessment to further understand his condition. What we found confirmed that Gajraj required expert medical care and long-term support to rehabilitate him and offer him a safe place where he can live a retired life for however long his frail body can support him.

Gajraj is a very old elephant who suffers from poor body conformation, among other things. The veterinary report described him as very thin with opacity in his right eye as well as nutritional deficiencies. The report further details a serious toenail abscess in his right front foot and left hind foot, as well as severe wear and tear of his foot pads, which makes him prone to lameness and foot injuries due to soft tissue exposure. Abscesses on his hips are also a matter of concern for the veterinarians.

You can donate toward the rescue and rehabilitation of Gajraj here. 

Please consider becoming a monthly donor to help support his ongoing, lifetime medical treatment and care. You can also share our email newsletters, Facebook posts, and YouTube videos to spread the good news about Gajraj and inform people about the plight of captive elephants in general. Please encourage your friends and family to connect with Wildlife SOS and become elephant supporters, too!

Gajraj’s ongoing medical treatment, feeding, and lifetime care will be covered solely and entirely by Wildlife SOS. Some part of the one-time capital costs will be covered by PETA and other supporters.

Gajraj is a 70- to 75-year-old bull elephant who was given as a wedding present to the Queen of Aundh Maharani Gayatridevi Bhagwantrao Pant Pratinidhi the day she married King Bhagwant Rao. Ever since, the elephant has been a star attraction at the temple of Aundh, playing an important role during annual festivities and temple processions. Temple devotees see Gajraj as an icon of worship, as explained in the words of the Queen herself. Gajraj’s plight was brought to attention by a PETA campaign to move him to an elephant care and rehabilitation center.

Being chained for long periods of time has had a detrimental effect on Gajraj’s health. After Wildlife SOS veterinarians conducted an interim medical examination, it was revealed that Gajraj required urgent medical attention for severe toenail abscesses in his front and hind legs, and to prevent the infection spreading to the bone. Gajraj also requires extensive care to treat his hip abscesses. Both of his hind limbs show severe degeneration of foot pads, which is very worrying for us as his legs could easily become infected, making him severely lame. For the above reasons, he needs to be rescued.

Sanjay - Elephant

Yes, Sanjay is the biggest elephant in terms of size/height as compared to all our rescued elephants at our centers. He is approx. 50 years old.

Like we mentioned above, we had a really small window of 36 hours to move the elephant after which it could take us months or even years to even locate him again. With the court case pending against them, the owners would do everything in their power to make the elephant ‘disappear’ before he could be taken to safety, should they get their hands on him again. We knew about his health condition and we did not want to lose our chance to help him and show kindness through human hands.

A twist of fate brought the elephant under the custody of the forest department and they requested our intervention. Years of abuse and mistreatment had had a detrimental effect on the elephant’s health. Partially blind in the left eye, Sanjay was severely malnourished with severe wounds on his body and even tail. The elephant’s feet are also in a terrible condition with overgrown toenails and inflammation.

The district Court had issued an order stating that the elephant be sent to the Elephant Conservation and Care Center in Mathura. Although we initially planned to rescue this elephant after securing additional land for the elephants, we were then informed that there was a secret effort to get a stay on the court order and if that happened then the elephant would disappear and there were strong chances that we may never find him again. We realized that we had to act fast and had a really small window of 36 hours to move the elephant after which it could take us months or even years to locate him again.

The tusks of captive bull elephants are often trimmed to make them safer to work with in captivity. The ivory trimmed off Sanjay’s tusks was illegally sold by his former owners in the black market in the illegal wildlife trade. We currently do not have details about the whereabouts of his ivory, but our intelligence gathering team is working on that. If and when we learn about his ivory, we shall work with the authorities to address that issue.

$50,000 is only about half of what it usually costs us to rescue an elephant. The costs of creating the infrastructure for a bull elephant can easily be over $ 100K. Costs also add up very fast with rescue operations. Sometimes we also get involved in legal battles to protect our elephants’ newly secured freedom, which can prove to be quite expensive.


Captive or domesticated elephants are accustomed to human presence and human touch, while wild elephants are generally wary of human beings. This can make it both stressful and difficult to treat a wild elephant. In addition, the problems and ailments for which a wild elephant requires treatment are generally quite different from those of captive elephants, and pose a new challenge to the vet.

People can spread awareness about the plight of begging, performing and circus elephants in India and they can refuse to watch animals perform or take elephant rides. This should be managed in every country through travel advisories, travel agents and tour companies so tourists visiting India don’t inadvertently promote cruelty and abuse of captive elephants. Volunteer with our elephant projects and help us hands on. We need committed volunteers to help us gather evidence, facilitate documentation and also help us with campaign efforts, awareness camps as well as working in the elephant care center with our team members.

Email us at if you would like to volunteer

It is sometimes unavoidable for a mahout or a keeper to ride an elephant ‘bare back’ and without a ‘howdah‘ in captivity as in many cases this is the only safe way for a mahout to take an elephant out on a long walk for the purpose of exercising the elephant, particularly in places with people, villages, cattle, feral dogs etc around. It is important to note that this is done simply for the welfare of the elephant – exercise and the enrichment of a walk is critical for the elephant’s well-being, and in some cases sitting on top of the elephant neck is the only way to give it this exercise and make it walk. However, in such cases a distinction must be drawn between riding an elephant for commercial profit or entertainment and riding it for the safety of bystanders and the exercise of the elephant. Only a trained mahout may ride the elephant while exercising it and he does so without the paraphernalia of a ‘howdah’ and never allows anyone else to ride the elephant. He also ensures that he is sitting in a way that causes the least discomfort to the elephant and does not hurt the elephant in any way.

We are facing legal battles for many of the elephants which we rescue or wish to rescue which makes the process very slow and difficult. We also need to be able to generate adequate support to cover legal costs as well as to provide these elephants medical attention, veterinary facilities and lifetime care. Once these elephants have been brought to the Centre, we need to address the elephant’s needs of an exercise yard, a pool, enrichment etc which requires funds.

Refuse to Ride

Besides the physical and mental abuse that an elephant faces to become rideable, the very act of riding is also physically torturous to the elephant. It may seem innocuous considering the large size of an elephant, but the protruding spine of the elephant is often forced to bear the entire weight of the ‘howdah’, the mahout and the tourists, resulting in excessive pressure on the spine, which leads to deformities, wounds and permanent disabilities. These elephants often develop burns, sores and wounds from the ropes that tie the carrier on, and the weight can result in them losing balance and breaking their legs – a broken leg is generally untreatable in an elephant causing permanent disability, early arthritis and painful joints or even death. The surface and inclination on which the elephant is made to walk can also lead to the wearing off of their sensitive footpads, especially if the path is rocky, tarred and prone to overheating, and if it is a hilly or an uneven terrain.

The indoctrination process of a captive elephant is extremely cruel. The animal is tightly restrained for months while people beat it and force it to obey commands – a process known as phajaan or breaking of the spirit. The objective of this process is to simply destroy the wilful, independent spirit of the elephant to instill fear such that the elephant is too terrified to ever retaliate.

The indoctrination process of a captive elephant is extremely brutal. The animal is caged, or tightly restrained for weeks while people beat it and force it to obey commands – a process known as ‘phajaan’ or the breaking of the spirit. The objective is to destroy any wild spirit within the elephant, to drive fear into it to the extent that it is too terrified to ever retaliate. In order to make it possible for anyone to ride the elephant, it has to be broken.

Any facility that offers rides to tourists is abusing the elephants to keep them controllable while it is being ridden or painted over by humans.

Instead look for shelters that house rescued animals, that do not offer rides to tourists, and in fact work towards sensitizing the public about issues related to wildlife conservation and welfare or Sanctuaries and National Parks where you can see wild elephants.

That said, however, beware as many private and abusive elephant tourist spots will claim to be sanctuaries/rescue centres and claim their elephants are rescued, when they are actually bought and continue to be exploited for tourist entertainment and commercial activities such as parades, temple ceremonies and other functions.

We can take it for granted that all elephants being used for tourist rides are and have been brutally abused. There is no other way to make a wild animal conducive to being ridden. The elephant when used commercially is like a piece of equipment that earns money hand over fist.

You can look for tell-tale signs of physical and mental stress including cracked toenails, overgrown, cracked footpads, visible wounds and scars, blindness (opacity of the corneas), old age or dehydration (sunken temples), malnourishment (prominently visible spines and hollows in the head), and stereotypy (repetitive, monotonous motion like head bobbing, swaying or weaving that indicate extreme mental stress and trauma). You can also check if the elephant is chained, has rope burns and wounds from restraints; or if the keeper is using weapons like spears or a nail embedded in a harmless looking piece of wood to inflict pain on the animal, or shouts loudly in order to make their elephant obey commands.

That’s where you come in! The ever-increasing demand from tourists for elephant rides is keeping this grotesque industry alive. If tourists stop riding elephants, this abuse and exploitation will also end! As long as there are huge profits to be made by exploiting these animals, the abuse and exploitation of the animals in the tourism and entertainment industry will continue.


No! Elephants do not belong in captivity – they belong in the wild and are wild animals. In order for tourists to be able to sit on their backs and ride them, they have to be poached from the wild, separated from their families and then beaten and abused in order to make them “ride-able for tourists. The heavy metal and wood contraption which is perched on their backs for your comfort called ‘howdah’ weighs a lot and combined with the weight of the tourists, becomes very heavy and damages their spine irreversibly.

  1. There are several guidelines and laws to help ensure the welfare of elephants, but these are ignored and violated by greedy owners and handlers:
  2. In order to use an elephant for rides, the owner must have an Ownership Certificate issued by the Forest Department, with all the details of the elephants’ name, sex, place of origin, microchip etc. and can only have been issued during the stipulated periods after the enactment of the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 or the guidelines issued by Project Elephant. Different states in India have different rules for using elephants for rides – for example, elephants giving rides in Kerala are required to hold a performing animal permit from the Animal Welfare Board of India, while in Rajasthan, the use of the bull-hook and the use of bull elephants for rides is prohibited.
  3. Project Elephant has stipulated guidelines on the working and housing conditions necessary for the maintenance and upkeep of an elephant in captivity, including those that give rides, but these are never enforced nor is there mechanism in place for regular inspection unless a formal complaint is lodged.

Unfortunately, it is still legal to use an elephant for rides, if the owner has proper documents in place and adheres to the stipulated guidelines.

No, it is not safe for tourists to ride an elephant. Elephants are wild animals, and despite years of breaking in, sudden triggers like fear or stress can cause them to retaliate against their abusers. This results in a dangerous rampage in which multiple people are killed or injured and substantial damage is done to property. Very often, in a bid to escape their torturous lives, these elephants run amuck – putting at risk the lives of tourists and bystanders nearby, as well as the persons riding them. In 2005, two Belgian tourists in Jaipur were injured and their tour guide killed by an elephant when they were trying to take a picture with it. In 2011, a South Korean couple was critically injured after the elephant they were riding at Amer Fort started to run amuck, throwing the two from her back.

In addition, elephants in captivity lead stressful lives and are exposed to and carry contagious diseases like tuberculosis, which their weakened immunities are unable to tackle – and this can easily pass this on to other elephants or any human that interacts with them.

It may be your dream to ride an elephant, but it is an elephant’s worst nightmare to be ridden. Here’s what goes into making an elephant “rideable”:

  1. First, an elephant calf is captured from the wild, tearing it away from its mother and herd – as well as from any chance it has of a free, wild life. This is illegal and can be termed as “poaching.”
  2. The calf is restrained in a small squeeze contraption called a kraal and starved and beaten for months. This brutal “breaking-in process” called katti azhikal or phajaan, is intended to destroy the calf’s natural, wilful spirit and to instil so much fear in the young calf that it will allow humans to ride it for fear of suffering the same pain again.
  3. The elephant then spends the rest of its life living in constant fear- beaten frequently and regularly to reinforce the “training”. Furthermore, the elephant then is kept in isolation for all its life with no or little interaction with other elephants. This is psychologically detrimental for the elephant, causing it to become withdrawn and unhappy, and in turn engaging in stereotypic behaviour.
  4. Once in captivity, these elephants are often neglected and poorly cared for. They receive little or no veterinary care; their nutrition is compromised and they have restricted access to water. These captive elephants are housed on concrete floors, where they are chained for extended periods of time, often standing in their own dung and urine. This leads to foot rot and many diseases.
  5. The very act of riding is cruel – an elephant’s back was not designed to carry weight and yet the weight of the carrier, the mahout/keeper and the tourists on its back can put an intense amount of pressure on the animal’s spine. These weights can often exceed 200-400 kilograms of the ‘howdah’ and in addition to it the weight of the mahout and three adult passengers easily exceeds 600 kilograms—causing sores bruises, cuts and deformities in the animal’s back, but most importantly it leads to early arthritis and severe joint pains.

Illegality persists in the elephant riding industry despite strict laws, with owners unashamedly flouting rules and lacking requisite ownership paperwork – taking advantage of the difficulty of enforcement to break all welfare and conservation laws.

Our Social Media

Hotline Number

Delhi NCT Region +91-9871963535
Agra Region (UP) +91-9917109666
Vadodra Region +91-9825011117

Subscribe To Our Newsletter