“They say an elephant never forgets. What they don’t tell you is, you never forget an elephant.”
Anyone who meets Maya will heartily agree with the above statement. Once you interact with the exuberant pachyderm, it is impossible to forget her vivacity and joie-de-vivre. As she stands tall and proud munching on fresh, juicy sugarcane next to her best friend Phoolkali, the two cut impressive figures against the horizon.
Maya starts her day by walking over to the edge of her enclosure, demanding treats from her caregiver in squeaky rumbles. Her caregiver, knowing of Maya’s weakness for early morning goodies, already has a bag with some of her favourites – coconut shavings, dates & lumps of jaggery. He prepares them beforehand every night and keeps it ready for her morning walks.
In 2010, Maya was rescued by Wildlife SOS from a painful and monotonous existence as a performing elephant at the circus. Her days were spent ‘practicing’ standing on two legs or made to ‘dance’ at the swish of a stick, activities which were highly unnatural for a wild animal. It is presumed that she was poached from the wild as a calf and underwent the brutal ‘training’ process of ‘Phajaan’ before being considered ‘tame’ enough to perform for human recreation. When she arrived at the centre, the frail and nervous elephant brought tears to our eyes; she flinched at sudden movements and her body was a battle zone, wounds peppering her frame.
Years of neglect and abuse had turned Maya into a husk of her original self; it took all of our concerted efforts and patience to coax her into settling down into her new surroundings. For her first meal after her arrival at our centre, Maya was treated to fresh fruit, green fodder and cool water; after hesitant exploration, she devoured the food to her heart’s content. Over time, her caregiver gained her trust; to remedy Maya’s stereotypy – a condition born of years of confinement and neglect (head bobbing, swaying etc) – she was introduced to Phoolkali, another rescue elephant. Phoolkali’s presence has played a significant role in Maya’s recovery journey with us and the two are inseparable. According to the elephant care staff at the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, bonds between elephants, despite them being social creatures, is subject to change with time. However, Maya & Phoolkali’s friendship is an example of a relationship that has only gone from strength to strength with each passing day.
As temperatures dip in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, the animal care staff is embarking on ‘winter care management’ to make the elephants more comfortable in the cold. From changing diets to changing appearances, every element of daily routines at the centres is undergoing a revamp. In the summer, their diets consist of a large quantity of refreshing fruits to keep them hydrated and cool. As winter approaches however, foods that help the majestic animals in regulating their body temperature are introduced at a larger scale. This includes condiments like ginger, garlic and turmeric; vegetables such as cauliflower and spinach also form a part of her meals & hot, steaming porridge served along with mashale – a preparation made of jaggery, turmeric and Carom (also called ajwain in vernacular languages) which aid in digestion and help maintain body temperature. As we will enter December, thick tarpaulins will be draped over every single enclosure to prevent the biting winds from entering, and halogen bulbs will be installed to provide warmth.
During her morning and evening walks, when a fine mist pervades the air, Maya is often observed on the horizon following Phoolkali as they forage to their heart’s content. Both pachyderms are complete water-babies, and during the hot months, can be seen taking dips in their pool. Now however, they prefer to sit out in the sun, happily munching on sugarcane or trying to figure out how to get treats from the hanging cage feeder that sways gently above. At other times, Maya can often be seen shuffling around her enclosure to find spots of warm sunlight to bask in. Sometimes, her caregiver sticks fresh shoots of sugarcane in mounds of earth, and she enjoys plucking them out, even offering Phoolkali a share of her prize!
Maya has a gigantic appetite as she consumes up to 3 kilograms of porridge a day! The gentle giant is not a picky eater either – as long as it is edible and is not bananas, Maya doesn’t mind popping it into her mouth! Strangely, the elephant displays a dislike of bananas, which is a common favourite amongst the other residents at our centre. To help relieve her feet and joints, Maya is provided with medicated footbaths and warm oil massages and occasional hydrotherapy.
One of the most pampered elephants under our care, Maya’s caregiver simply dotes on his special ‘girls’ Maya & Phoolkali. The smiling man is always within earshot of the two and hastens to their side at the drop of a hat. When Maya or Phoolkali feel under the weather, he sits up with them, putting his own meals and sleep on hold to ensure their well-being. He also knows that Maya loves fruit feasts and daliya cakes, a common way to celebrate special occasions at ECCC.
For the momentous occasion of her tenth rescueversary, a majestic feast befitting the majestic pachyderm was prepared by the elephant care staff with special direction from her keeper. The buffet was waiting for her as she returned from a walk with Phoolkali beside the river, and the two ecstatically made their way to guzzle down the delicacies! Displaying a little impatience, Maya had cleaned her side of the ‘table’ within minutes!
From the circus to a safe haven, Maya has come a long way with Wildlife SOS! Here’s to many more years of swims, tree scratches and riverside walks with her best friend Phoolkali!