For the Wildlife SOS team and our many supporters, days like today are a flood of emotions. We are heartbroken at the loss of Nina and for the decades of suffering she endured, but at the same time, we find comfort knowing that she experienced our compassion and care during her final years. In the end, dear Nina knew she was loved and was able to experience the joys of freedom. The small, timid and stoic elephant stole our hearts with her sweetness, and amazed us with her quiet strength.
For most of her life, Nina lived alone in a dark world. In her 60 years as a begging elephant, she was doomed to exist as little more than a living ornament on display at hundreds of weddings. She knew the routine, and how to comply to avoid punishment. Nina would remain submissive as she was painted, bound in chains, and positioned as a prop during the endless marriage festivities, fireworks and photographs.
Countless happy newlyweds had pictures snapped of themselves with Nina, but none of them saw her tortured soul looking blankly back at the camera. Then one day, someone noticed her suffering, and alerted our team by sending photos and videos.
When we saw these images of the blind elephant, looking but not seeing, we wondered how she had survived so many years. Nina was dependent on the kindness of others, but only received apathy on the best of days. Thinking about her life was unbearable for us, and we wasted no time putting together a rescue plan while simultaneously imagining all the ways we would pamper her as a member of the Wildlife SOS family.
Professing his love for the tortured pachyderm, Nina’s caregiver remarked that their love managed to make her last days more tolerable even if the injuries in her feet were far too great for her to be saved. “She loved feasting on fruits, and loved the company of her caregivers… her life was a spectacle of unbound sorrow”. However, despite her horrific experience with humans in her early life, Nina never stopped showing her fondness for her caregivers and the people who regularly interacted with her, showcasing the gentle giant’s immense capacity for forgiveness.
On June 05, 2021, after 60 years of being in chains, Nina took her first steps of freedom at the Elephant Hospital Campus. We will never forget that day when she disembarked from the ambulance. She used all of the senses available to her to experience and understand her new, unfamiliar world. Nina’s trunk tentatively tapped and smelled the warm earth that welcomed her. She listened to sounds of the sanctuary, a mixture of elephants rumbling, peacocks calling and the water flowing in the nearby Yamuna river. She tasted the welcome feast that had been specially prepared for her, and then lay down for a long and peaceful nap.
We knew Nina was blind, but before she arrived we had held on to some hope that her blindness was not permanent. However, we soon learned that she had complete vision loss, and it was irreversible. Doctors concluded that she was likely blinded intentionally. A past trauma that still causes us sorrow and rage to this day.
We knew that she was fragile and had injuries we could not heal, but we put together a daily treatment and activity schedule that would give her comfort, joy and anticipation. Every day, she had a team of caregivers who gave her pedicures and baths. Instead of people painting her for a loud celebration, our focus became bringing her peace and contentment. She welcomed the kindness and offered her affectionate rumbles in return.
Over the last two years she showed grace, patience and courage as she worked to get healthier and stronger. There were times that her body gave out and we worried her end could be near, but she impressively found the strength from within to recover and stand again. Her caregiver comments fondly on her jovial nature and love for going on walks. Despite her age and her tragic past, Nina had an admirable will to live. She was too frail to play with other elephants, but Nina often interacted with her nearby friends Holly and Lakshmi. These were likely the only elephant relationships she ever had in her adult lifetime, and we know she cherished these friendships. Often, we would watch her taking a dust bath, delightfully indulging in the cool relief provided by the same.
Recently, Nina lied down and we sensed that this time was different, she would not rally to stand once more. It was time to say our goodbyes. We stayed by her side, gave her love and kept her comfortable until she passed, surrounded by other elephants. Her death opened up a void in the hearts of all who knew her. Her caregiver reminiscences fondly about the frail pachyderm and the precious memories they had shared in her last days. “I stayed 24 hours by her side since she lay down for her final rest. Nina reached out with her trunk for water and food, especially her favourite papayas and watermelons whose sweetness provided her with respite in her last days. The first time we fell down, we tried to lift her up”. However, due to the injuries in her feet, she was unable to stand, no matter how we tried.
Nina taught us so much about perseverance and forgiveness. We are heartbroken that she’s gone and will miss her terribly. In her memory, we must also persevere and continue fighting for India’s captive elephants. We can’t let cruelty and greed win, and will continue our life-saving work with a hole in our hearts for Nina’s loss, but also empowered by her quiet, persistent strength.
Goodbye, dear friend.