Celebrating Rhea’s 5th Rescueversary!

April 20, 2021 | By Mahima Sharma

By the time Rhea was rescued, she had lived over five decades in severe neglect and abuse as a performing elephant in a circus. Nobody is a stranger to the sheer brutality that is suffered by elephants for the sake of performing in front of an audience but for Rhea, the pain worsened after the curtains closed. She would be tethered to a filthy concrete corner with no space to lie down or even move – her rope was barely a foot long and her tightly restrained hind limbs would be a constant struggle to be free.

Rhea, five years ago, would spend most of her day like this, her foot rot hidden under the layer of fodder.
Rhea, five years ago, would spend most of her day like this, her foot rot hidden under the layer of fodder. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

In these troubled times, Rhea’s only survival guide was her companions, Sita and Mia, who were also performing elephants at the same circus. The most heartbreaking sight was that all three of them were tied around the same area but were not allowed any interaction; Rhea would be seen pulling at the chains while Sita would be rumbling in discomfort and Mia would display stereotypic behaviour in sheer distress.

Sita, Mia and Rhea (L to R) were reunited at ECCC with no restrictions anymore!
Sita, Mia and Rhea (L to R) were reunited at ECCC with no restrictions anymore! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS]

Five years ago, Rhea stepped into her new home at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Centre after a four-day long journey from the South of India. During the journey, our team took a break every few hours to ensure that Rhea was hydrated and well-rested. Rhea’s rescue was also the first time that the Wildlife SOS Elephant Ambulance made an appearance on the roads of the country.

Rhea (front) and Mia (back) on their long walks around the Centre.
Rhea (front) and Mia (back) on their long walks around the Centre. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

Rhea’s rescue was also her much-awaited reunion with her companions, Mia and Sita, who were rescued 4 months before her. Excited trumpets and rumbles filled the air when the trio reunited and we knew their healing journey had just begun. Two years later, Sita passed away due to old age complications and her steadily deteriorating health, leaving behind Rhea and Mia, who dearly miss their companion. Today, Rhea and Mia are seldom spotted apart, whether it is on their long walks together or during their daily foot care and treatment sessions. Rhea is the best friend anyone could ever ask for, always looking out for Mia, even covering her from the harsh rays of the sun while she naps during the day.

In the past five years, the elephant care staff has witnessed a timid and weak Rhea steadily regain her strength both physically and mentally. It is heartbreaking to see that Rhea suffers from one of the most severe cases of foot rot than any other elephant under our care. Her torturous tryst in the circus, the endless hours of standing in her own waste and the negligent foot care that was given – took a toll on her feet. She suffers from an aggravated case of osteoarthritis, toenail abscesses as well as foot pad abscesses that decorate her forelimbs. The condition of her feet was much worse when she was at the circus and our veterinary team had scraped off dried concrete from her sensitive foot pads, in the beginning!

The deplorable condition of her foot pads require long term intensive treatment, the debris being cleared in the picture.
The deplorable condition of her foot pads require long term intensive treatment, the debris being cleared in the picture. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak[

As Rhea and Mia continue their short walks around the Centre, the natural substrata seems more comfortable to their ailing limbs. On the occasion of her fifth rescueversary, her caregiver started planning days in advance, ensuring that her favourite watermelons and bananas were fully stocked. It was his idea to organize a delicious fruit feast with all her favourite fruits and vegetables, to mark the celebrations!

Her caregiver cutting up all her favourite fruits for the feast!
Her caregiver cutting up all her favourite fruits for the feast! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

Rhea was delighted at the surprise feast and was quick to munch on it without wasting a morsel, lightly rumbling out to Mia to join her. Her strength and courage continues to inspire us the way it has all these years, undertaking a mammoth journey of trusting humans again. As she indulges in luxurious dust baths and snores her way to glory, we celebrate her five-year long journey with us!

Happy 5th rescueversary to our dear Rhea!
Happy 5th rescueversary to our dear Rhea! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

You, too, can be a part of these celebrations by joining the herd and considering making a monthly donation to Rhea’s care or sponsoring her long term intensive care and treatment.

Rhea (L) and Mia (R) enjoying the fruit feast together!
Rhea (L) and Mia (R) enjoying the fruit feast together! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

Here is how Rhea celebrated her day of freedom!

Help end the suffering of all the other elephants like Rhea and Mia by signing our petition! Elephants abused for the tourism and entertainment industry undergo similar torture like Rhea sustained, and most of the time, life escapes them without any help ever reaching them. Your signature can help us reach out to the authorities and save the lives of these gentle giants! If you love elephants, do not ride them or support their presence in the entertainment industry. Log onto refusetoride.org and sign our petition, share as much as you can, to play your role in making this a happy rescueversary for Rhea.

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