Elephant of the Month: Suzy

December 16, 2020 | By Smriti Suri

In the words of Greek philosopher Plutarch – “….the elephant also is become man’s plaything, and a spectacle at public solemnities; and it learns to skip, dance, and kneel.”

We find ourselves agreeing most vociferously with the ancient historian. The use of these majestic animals by humans to their own advantage since time immemorial is a practice that continues to this day, despite the absence of conditions that necessitated the need of employing it in the first place. The most condemnable aspect of this set-up is elephants being made to perform unnatural tricks for the purpose of recreation in circuses or give rides to tourists in popular vacation spots.

Though she towers over us, Suzy can hardly be seen amongst the other resident elephants of the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre (ECCC). Anyone who looks at the positively diminutive pachyderm munching away serenely on soft grass finds it hard to imagine that her story begins in the unhappy, dingy tents of a circus.

Suzy enjoys a soothing dust bath on one of her walks. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

Her time as a performing elephant had left Suzy with little to no vision in both her eyes. Our veterinarians coaxed the slightly agitated elephant into a truck filled with delicious treats; they had to pacify and encourage her with bananas and watermelon. Soon, she arrived at the centre where a new life was awaiting her.

Today, the 70-year-old pachyderm is one of the oldest female under our care and receives specialised geriatric supervision to help her withstand the onslaught of age-related infirmities comfortably. Practically unrecognizable from the apprehensive and emaciated elephant that arrived at ECCC, today, Suzy paints a calm, tranquil picture as she stands beside her best friend Asha, enjoying the warm sun shining down on them. With age, the elephants under our care become less active and relish spending more time relaxing. For most of the day, Suzy is found lounging in her enclosure, happily munching on ripened bananas or indulging in ‘Suzy’s smoothies’.

Suzy munching away on greens. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

What is a ‘Suzy’s smoothie’, you ask? During her time with the circus, Suzy’s health was the least priority for any of her handlers. Suffering from arthritis and complete blindness, Suzy also has no molars, and hence cannot chew and ingest common elephant favourites like sugarcane and tough fruits. For this reason, the elephant care staff prepares a concoction we fondly call ‘Suzy’s smoothies’ – a delicious, highly nutritious mix of fruits and vegetables turned into a watery slush that Suzy loves slurping down. The ingredients of this smoothie differ each day according to the diet and health plan charted for her by WSOS veterinarians.

Apart from this, Suzy consumes three hefty meals a day – each consisting of 15 kilograms of daliya and jaggery. The jaggery is intended to provide warmth and help the elephant maintain its body temperature. Suzy is also very fond of chickpeas, papaya, ripened bananas and watermelon. She has quite a healthy appetite and consumes upto 20 kilograms of food in each meal! A special, seasonal preparation called mashala is also added to her meals; Mashala is a preparation made of jaggery, carom and turmeric which aids in digestion and also helps in fighting the cold.

Dust baths act as sunscreen for elephants. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS]

As temperatures have dipped in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh, we have embarked on ‘winter care management’ at the centre. For a senior elephant like Suzy, winters can prove tough, hence a complete overhaul in her routines, diets and even sleeping quarters is imperative. Suzy’s caregiver will ensure that she has a fleece blanket on to keep her warm and cozy against the biting chill. Her enclosure will soon be covered with thick tarpaulin wraps to keep the raw gusts of freezing wind out. To further keep our gentle Suzy comfortable, large halogen bulbs will be fitted in her den to provide warmth.

Any rendition of Suzy’s story will be incomplete without the mention of her constant companion and best friend Asha – rescued from similar situations of abuse, Asha was welcomed at ECCC by Suzy with utmost warmth and welcomed into the circle of her comfort; the two have been inseparable since. Asha often acts as Suzy’s guide, steering her away from perceived discomfort and constantly keeping an eye on her. On their walks, Suzy takes smaller steps, travelling for lesser distances than others, but Asha is never far away.

Asha (R) often acts as Suzy’s (L) guide while on a walk. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

Whenever Suzy requires some direction, Asha is next to her in an instant, guiding her with her trunk and voice. When new enrichment is installed in their enclosure, Asha often acts as a helping hand (or trunk), helping Suzy discover the many ways to extract treats from the enrichment. Currently, Suzy receives medicated Epsom salt foot baths which are helpful in the treatment and healing of toenail and footpad injuries, abscesses and infections. In the latest addition to her foot care routine, the veterinarians also apply neem oil on her cuticles.

Neem oil is essential for collagen restoration along with moisturizing the skin around the toenails, keeping them soft and helping in the recovery of the abscesses. We wish we had been able to rescue Suzy earlier and give her many more years of freedom, but it soothes our heart to know that she is getting the care she deserves. You can help us help more elephants like Suzy or play a role in Suzy’s life by sponsoring her here.

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