We had to say “goodbye” to our king today. Over the years, we have witnessed the heart-breaking departure of many of our beloved animals – but the passing of each of these precious souls reinforces that saying goodbye is never truly easy.
It was a warm summer day in 2017 and an atmosphere of excitement lingered in the air at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation & Care Centre as our team prepared for the arrival of ‘Gajraj’, literally the King of Elephants. The hydraulic ramp of the Elephant Ambulance gently opened and we caught a glimpse of the regal occupant. Gajraj had arrived! The majestic elephant gently put out his trunk to tentatively feel the ground before he gingerly stepped forth onto the ground as our team welcomed him. He carried an aura of peace and tranquility as he walked towards his new enclosure and pool that was prepared for his arrival.
For over 50 years, Gajraj was used as a temple elephant in Aundh located in Satara, Maharashtra. The local devotees saw him as an icon of worship as he played an important role in festivities and temple processions. However, with advancing age Gajraj was found to be suffering from several medical issues like foot and hip abscesses, arthritic joints and the years were finally catching up on him.
When the veterinarians from Wildlife SOS medically examined Gajraj, they observed that this old pachyderm was suffering from severe degradation of footpads, and toe-nail abscesses in his front and hind legs.
An elephant carries its entire body weight on just their four soft footpads, so it was essential to get him urgent medical treatment for his feet. When Gajraj’s former owner, Queen Gayatri Devi Pant Pratinidhi of Aundh was given a full diagnosis of his condition, she kindly consented to handing him to Wildlife SOS for medical treatment as she wanted him to have the best of care possible.
Thus, began Gajraj’s journey to the ECCC where at the grand old age of 70, he could get specialized medical treatment and geriatric care that his body needed. At Wildlife SOS, Gajraj discovered the joys of social bonding with other elephants and companionship. He was like a grandfather to the other elephants and was very tolerant. The younger bull elephants who would accompany him on his walks would follow his lead.
His keeper, ‘Prahlad’, doted on Gajraj, treating him with affection, never leaving his side, caring for him like a member of his family. The elephant care team and Prahlad would accompany Gajraj to the Elephant Hospital, often comforting him during medical procedures. In short, we left no stone unturned to make his life comfortable, and to help him heal at his own pace.
One of the most notable things about this massive nearly four ton tusker was his docile and gentle nature. More than his physical strength, it was his resilience, his mental strength and his calm fighting spirit that pulled the hardest on our heartstrings. He shared a very close and trusted bond with his keeper Prahlad, who was equally devoted to him. Prahlad always kept a watchful eye on what he was eating and ensured that he always had a constant supply of Gajraj’s favourite treats in his enclosure. Prahlad would often say that Gajraj had witnessed much more of the world than him and he held him in utmost respect and admiration, the way a young man would care for his aging father.
Recently, Gajraj was diagnosed with a severe stomach infection that resulted in colic and stomach bloat. Our team of veterinarians carried out “enema” procedures to provide him relief. Our crane and medical hoist helped him up each time he found it difficult to stand up due to dehydration. He was receiving fluid therapy to help his condition while our expert team of veterinarians and care givers were constantly by his side, ensuring his comfort.
Despite our best and most sincere efforts, Gajraj’s condition gravely deteriorated last night.
His chronic condition and advancing age caused him to collapse on his mud bed. He then slept peacefully as our team kept watch over him monitoring his vitals. He silently passed away in his sleep in the early hours of the morning today. Our team was at his side the whole night and made sure he was comfortable. At the moment of his passing, Gajraj was surrounded by the people who loved and cared for him. His last moments were peaceful and filled with love.
For Gajraj’s keeper and for all of us at Wildlife SOS, this is heartbreaking and an unimaginable loss. Gajraj loved dust baths which was his favourite activity. Gajraj’s departure to greener pastures leaves a void inside us, but he lives on in our hearts.
“I feel like I’ve lost my father again…” says an inconsolable Prahlad as he remembers Gajraj, “I was with him through each and every treatment that he underwent from his first, to his last. Gajraj was calm and cooperative, at every moment. What I will miss the most about him is the time when he played with water. He would enjoy the water so much, that he would fill his trunk over and over again and playfully try to grab the hose from me! Bathing Gajraj meant that I would be completely drenched at the end of it. Each morning, I would wake up and rush to check on him, to clean his enclosure and he would rumble out to me. I will miss him very much, but I am at peace knowing that he passed away peacefully and is in a better place.”
As Gajraj leaves us with a certain heaviness in our hearts, we applaud his strength and perseverance to the very end. We find solace in knowing that he is finally relieved of his pain and has found peace. Our mighty Gajraj will live on in our hearts and memories. His teachings determine us to help other elephants like Gajraj.