Side-by-side on their shed’s cemented ground, legs restrained painfully, the two elderly female elephants cut a pitiable figure. Wildlife SOS senior veterinarian, Dr. Arun A. Sha, approaches Sita, the older of the two, and strokes her trunk gently before proceeding to examine her feet. Sita’s right front limb is outstretched awkwardly, the joint having fused as a result of an old fracture that was never allowed to heal properly. The stress on her legs has taken a toll on her feet, riddled with cracks and abscesses. Sita strains on her chains, in visible discomfort, as the second elephant- Mia- stretches her trunk to conduct her own investigation of the veterinarian examining her companion.
Dr. Arun turns his attention to Mia, who he has been warned is the more curious and unpredictable one. Looking up at her, the vet can tell why. Mia’s eyes are clouded over, lesions partially limiting her sight, making her more wary of unfamiliar surroundings and strangers. He talks to her, reassuring her and allowing her to get comfortable before examining her limbs. The elephant shifts uncomfortably as Dr. Arun runs a concerned hand along one of her limbs. Repeated kneeling during performances has worn off the skin on both elbows, leaving painful looking scars. Similar trauma is visible on both her temples. The condition of Mia’s feet is similar to that of her companion elephant, with deep cracks running along her nails and footpads, punctuated by agonising abscesses.
A cursory glance over the shed confirms Dr. Arun’s concern that there is no drinking water available to the two elephants. He reluctantly leaves the two girls standing side by side, swaying their heads wearily, with a gentle word of reassurance to both. That evening, he writes a detailed report to the Wildlife SOS team, and the first step to changing Mia and Sita’s lives is complete.
Getting the required permits and reports delays the rescue process, as does the sudden spell of torrential rain that leaves the state of Tamil Nadu flooded and nearly impenetrable by the Wildlife SOS rescue convoy. But the last week of November saw the rescue team overcoming all odds to reach the elephants and get them on the road to freedom. Sudden downpours and badly damaged roads in the state mean the convoy moves slowly, but the elephants seem calm and happy in their trucks- munching on snacks and basking in the affection being showered on them by the rescue team. The journey takes six days, and though the road is bumpy and has its obstacles, the team perseveres and uses the time to bond with their elephant co-passengers. They learn over the course of the journey that Mia is more curious and spirited, trumpeting excitedly in her carrier and patting the staff with her trunk to check for treats. It takes only one round of treats for both the team and Mia herself to realise that she absolutely loves papayas!
Sita seems more reserved, and hangs her trunk over the side of her rescue vehicle as if checking where she is and where she’s headed- her trunk looks like a snorkel peeping out above the carrier to sniff the air. Regular pit-stops allow the girls some time to rest, stretch their legs and indulge in a dust bath in between their journey to freedom.
Their first steps into the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Centre were an emotional moment for everyone, and Mia and Sita seemed apprehensive initially, cautious of the unfamiliar surroundings and other elephants. But the other elephants at ECCC seemed thoroughly excited to see the new arrivals, especially Raju whose enclosure Mia and Sita first pass by, while Mac almost clambers out of his enclosure to get closer to Sita! The contagious excitement eventually caught on and the girls seemed more inclined to explore the new space and interact with the elephants. Sita even interrupted her first dip in the pool to walk over to Wally and lovingly entwine trunk with the young bull. Mia, on the other hand, seemed to realise that she was finally free, and, overwhelmed with the entire experience, lay down for what was probably the first time in years. Rescues are always stressful for the team, and we’re always worried about the elephants’ wellbeing, so watching Mia curl up in the soft, cool mud, completely at peace, was a moment of validation for everyone.
The vets at ECCC got to work immediately, planning medicated footbaths and pedicures for the elephants’ worn out feet which will take months to start healing. Sita is now on medication, painkillers and supplements for her stiff front leg, in addition to the supplements both the girls have been prescribed to tackle the anaemia they developed due to improper nutrition their entire lives.
A week in their new home and they’re enjoying their free lives- playing in the rain, going on walks and cautiously making friends with the other elephants. They even seem to be less apprehensive of people, growing comfortable around the staff. With the dedicated care of our expert veterinarians, Mia and Sita’s wounds will slowly heal and leave few visible reminders of their painful pasts. Their psychological recovery may take much longer, but we’re committed to helping them learn to trust people again.
Be a part of this amazing transformation in Mia and Sita’s lives, by sponsoring their care and treatment, HERE.