By Aishuwarya Sudarshan
Lakshmi, in Hindu mythology, is the goddess of wealth. In India she is treated with respect and considered lucky for a house. Unfortunately, Lakshmi the elephant wasnâ€™t lucky. She had spent more than 30 years of her life doing hard labor and being underfed.
The first time our intelligence team spotted her, she looked like she was going to collapse. On closer observation it was evident that she was being both badly mistreated and neglected. Her long arduous work days were not followed by rewards and praise; it was followed by tight leg chains to prevent her from running away. It was after this covert examination by our team that we decided Lakshmi deserved better and needed to be rescued. But not everything happens the way you expect.
We approached her owner and offered him a seed fund to surrender Lakshmi to us. The offer we gave him was enough for him to have a different livelihood that wouldnâ€™t involve harming animals. Initially, he was reluctant, but then he agreed. We left to begin preparations to bring Lakshmi to the centre. We returned two days late to find the owner gone and Lakshmi missing. The owner had fled and hid Lakshmi.
For 3 days we searched frantically for Lakshmi. Then someone told us about an elephant that had been locked in a deserted warehouse. That is exactly where we found Lakshmi. She was hidden in a windowless shed near the highway. After making sure she was fit enough to handle transport, we jumped into motion to move her out.
This time we made sure we did not leave her alone. A part of the team went to arrange a truck while two of our mahouts were asked to rush down to the site. It was at this time that the Wildlife SOS rescue team started calling her by her other name ‘Phool Kali’; it meant a blooming flower. She was lured on to the truck with water and sugar cane and then drove an uneventful 12 hours back to the centre.
The staff had been eagerly waiting for Phool Kali to arrive. However, they were a bit unprepared for what they saw when she dismounted. She was frail and scrawny and almost skeletal in appearance.
The vets and mahouts immediately got working and made sure soft gruel was prepared for phoolkalis first meal at the centre. The water trough was kept on the side and stacks of sugarcane were brought out. Bijli was the first elephant to meet Phoolkali. She walked up to her, investigated her a little and touched Phoolkali with her trunk. It was like she was saying Don’t worry girl, you are safe here.
After the vets checked her and began treatments, they decided it was time for Phool Kali to have a bath. We didn’t know if she had ever been hosed down before. We assumed she hadn’t. That assumption appeared to be true as we saw her surprise turn into the most joyous reaction. Phoolkali was ecstatic when she felt the water on her back, but her pleasure increased double fold when the mahouts began scrubbing her with a brush and a pumice stone. It was delightful to watch how something as simple as a bath could bring such joy to an elephant.
It has been 2 months since Lakshmi aka Phoolkali reached the centre. Most of her open wounds have healed. She gets fruits with every meal and she goes on walks with the other elephants Rajesh, Bhola and Maya. She loves throwing mud on herself and her mahoutâ€¦when he isnâ€™t paying attention.
Our main focus for the next few months is to make Lakshmi healthy, peaceful and fit. It isn’t easy to watch your life change in a matter of days, especially when it moves from shackles to sugarcane.