At the point where two mighty rivers Ganga and Gandak converge, Asia’s largest cattle fair takes place — the Sonepur Mela. Though it was established way back during the Mauryan empire, Sonepur Mela continues to attract people from far and wide even today. Thousands gather every year to engage in the trade of cattle, which sometimes even includes elephants. Despite being illegal, the sale of elephants in the Sonepur Mela is popular and is conducted through an underground network, making these majestic giants available for various commercial purposes.
One such elephant being traded as a mere commodity was Bijli. She was sold to a man from Agra, Uttar Pradesh who then went on to use Bijli as a begging elephant. Separated from her wild herd at a young age, and tamed in a brutal manner, Bijli’s spirit had been shattered. She obediently followed the commands of her captor as she treaded hot tarmac roads. The large pachyderm survived on only dry grass, the only food her owner was able to afford with the meagre income that came from making Bijli beg.
Bijli’s sordid tale took a turn for the worse when she became a victim of a tragic road accident. The already frail pachyderm was hit by a large truck, the impact of which left her with an injured hind leg and a diffused joint. Weak and malnourished from the insufficient food she had been receiving, Bijli was found in a critical condition.
Yet, the universe works in mysterious ways. Bijli’s collision with the truck brought her under the purview of the Forest Department and Wildlife SOS who took swift action in rescuing her. In 2010, after three decades of abuse, Bijli was rehabilitated at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Centre (ECCC) in Mathura to receive the lifetime veterinary care she needed. Bought from the Sonepur Mela for a life of begging, Bijli had experienced captivity and trauma that left a mark on her mental and physical well-being. Her rehabilitation at ECCC was the mark of a new dawn in her life that would help her heal from her cruel past.
When Bijli first arrived, our main priority was to ensure she was healthy enough to live her life in peace and comfort. She was given regular medicated footbaths for her torn footpads. She was also put on a course of anti-inflammatory medication for her injured limbs. Bijli’s caregiver was right by her side, ensuring that she had someone she could always rely on.
With Wildlife SOS, Bijli experienced nutritious food for the very first time in her life. She was given a specially curated diet of fresh fruits, vegetables, green fodder and nutritious porridge. Bijli’s eyes would light up as she relished the burst of flavours from watermelon to bananas. This also allowed her to regain her strength which had dwindled due to the insufficient diet of dry grass she was being given.
Today, Bijli’s health is stable. She is provided with multivitamins to ensure that her medical conditions remain in check.
As she continues to heal, her true personality shines bright. Over the years, we have discovered that Bijli is a calm elephant with a hidden, playful side that would only come out when she is most at ease. Her love for water is apparent as it is impossible to keep Bijli away from the pool in her enclosure. She enjoys playing in the pool for hours on end, splashing water all over herself and sometimes even on others!
To ensure she remains cognitively and physically stimulated, Bijli’s enclosure is punctuated with a multitude of enrichments. Her favourite enrichment is the drum feeder. Every day after her daily bath, Bijli can be seen banging her drum with such might that all the dates stuffed into the drum fall out! As she feeds on her snacks, she even allows her pal Laxmi to sneak out a few bites without having to do any of the labour!
Laxmi and Chanchal have been constant companions for Bijli, and the close friendship between the three pachyderms has been the true elixir for Bijli’s healing.
Chanchal arrived at ECCC two years after Bijli. Having also been a victim of a truck collision, Chanchal was reeling under a trauma similar to Bijli’s. The two pachyderms immediately connected with one another, forming an inseparable bond. Chanchal has a fierce personality and plays a protective matriarch-like role for Bijli, who is herself rather laidback. Of the three, Laxmi is the mischievous one and ensures that she keeps Bijli on her toes! According to her caregiver, Bijli is the one who forms a balance between the extreme personalities of Chanchal and Laxmi. This friendship has rejuvenated Bijli’s inner strength, one that needed much healing.
The three elephants take their daily evening walks together. Bijli often lags behind — the accident she encountered altered Bijli’s gait permanently, and chronic arthritis and degenerative joint disease have slowed her pace. But both Laxmi and Chanchal ensure that their friend is never left afar.
Bijli has now been under the care of Wildlife SOS for over ten years! Today, she is far from being the meek and broken elephant we first found — she is now much stronger with the constant love and veterinary care she receives at the ECCC.
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