Trunk Tales: Phoolkali, The Mighty Matriarch

October 30, 2023 | By Sutirtho Roy
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‘Phool’ in Hindi refers to ‘flower’, while ‘kali’ means ‘bud’. Phoolkali — the apple of her caregiver’s eye and a trusty matriarch for Maya and Emma — was indeed a flowering bud that was unfairly plucked off her family tree. Rather than being allowed to bloom in the pleasant surroundings of lush forests, Phoolkali grew up on dusty roads amidst harsh automobile sirens, and the lingering jabs of a bullhook.

In the absence of proper nourishment and care that a full-grown elephant needs, Phoolkali was reduced to a shadow of herself on scorching tarmac roads for the first 55 years of her life. As a begging elephant in Agra, she spent long hours under the sun without consuming water. 

At the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, Phoolkali is surrounded by greenery to forage on and soft earth to walk on, a far cry from the life she spent begging on tarmac roads. [Photo © Wildlife SOS/ Mradul Pathak]

These walks on asphalt roads eventually ruined her feet. Her labour was met with beatings and mistreatment, to the point that she was on the verge of collapsing when Wildlife SOS’ intelligence team first encountered her. Years of neglect, cruelty, and inadequate care had left this magnificent animal emaciated, sad, and blind in one eye. 

As soon we learnt about Phoolkali’s condition in 2012, we were determined to rescue her from this torturous ordeal and provide her with a better life. However, this opportunity took its time to favour Phoolkali. Repetitive attempts were made to free this majestic pachyderm from the clutches of her owner, who finally agreed to accept seed funds offered for an alternative livelihood. 

Phoolkali enjoys taking dust baths and displays her cheerful nature in the company of her close companion, Maya. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

However, on the day she was meant to be brought to our centre, Phoolkali and her owner went missing! After three strenuous days of trying to track her, our team managed to find her confined in a windowless shed near the highway. Due to experiencing such grave trauma, Phoolkali was gently coaxed into the rescue truck with the help of sugarcane stocks and water. 

After a journey from the rescue site that lasted twelve long hours, Phoolkali set foot in her new home at the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, Mathura. Upon her arrival, our staff was shocked to find her being extremely frail, and almost skeletal. Phoolkali was malnourished, indicating how she was long uncared for. Now, more than a decade since her rescue, Phoolkali has overcome her earlier trauma and has been responding well to the human care and kindness she receives. 

Maya and Phoolkali have bonded as sisters, and participate in almost all activities together! [Photo © Wildlife SOS/ Mradul Pathak]

With constant and focussed attention to her health at the centre, Phoolkali has also gained vitality in her body. She is indeed a photogenic elephant, delighting our staff photographers! Over time, Phoolkali formed close bonds with our elephant care staff. The gentle giant responds positively during target training sessions, and her caregiver tenderly provides her ample treats. She has even become the matriarch of her own mini herd!

Phoolkali’s first and closest friend at the centre is Maya, who was rescued from a circus two years before Phoolkali was. United in their journey towards healing, Phoolkali and Maya become two of the most dynamic duos at ECCC. The two have formed a sisterhood and are inseparable! Each day, they joyfully head out for their daily walks together. Unlike the harsh roads she had under her feet all through her life, Phoolkali was welcomed to walk on smooth and soft earth at the centre. 

Phoolkali has a calm and remarkable connection with her caregiver, who tends to her every requirement. [Photo © Wildlife SOS/ Mradul Pathak]

During Phoolkali’s initial days at the centre, Maya would closely observe her and guide her during their walks. In turn, Phoolkali attentively noted Maya’s gentle nature as she responded to her caregiver. This, in turn, helped her gain trust with her own kind caregiver and become equally cooperative. This reflected how the special bond between the two pachyderms would continue to become stronger. 

The time-tested friendship of Phoolkali and Maya was put to another test with the arrival of Emma, another begging elephant who was rescued from a life of torture and servitude in 2021. Maya displayed signs of being possessive of Phoolkali during their first days together.

Phoolkali, on the other hand, came forward to make Emma feel more at ease. Like Maya, Emma took to Phoolkali’s protective and generous nature as well. Following her steps yet again, Maya soon accepted Emma’s friendly presence in their enclosure. The three remain highly cheerful as they traverse their resplendent field, and beyond, for their daily walks.  

Ever since Emma joined the two, the group is fondly called ‘the trio of travelling trunks’ — which is led by the tallest female elephant at our centre, Phoolkali! [Photo © Wildlife SOS/ Mradul Pathak]

Like a true peacekeeper and supportive leader, Phoolkali has managed to unite her soul sisters as a trio of travelling trunks! At an advanced age of 66, Phoolkali showcases her radiant spirit as she engages with her food-based enrichments that include haynets and rolling barrels. These enrichments have played a significant role in keeping her mind and body active. 

At the age of 66, Phoolkali continues to remain an energetic elephant and looks forward to her daily strolls. [Photo © Wildlife SOS/ Mradul Pathak]

She loves the cage feeders in particular to extract and munch on the fodder inside them. All of these enrichments allow elephants to strengthen not only their muscles, but also their minds, sharpening their inherent instincts.  

She is currently undergoing treatment for a toenail and foot pad abscess. Though the abscess on her right leg has healed entirely, the one on her left leg is still undergoing treatment. For this, a combination of epsom salt and turmeric is being applied to the abscess. While she heads out for her daily walks in the morning and evening, her pedicures have been halted for a while to ensure that she heals completely. 

Phoolkali, our mighty matriarch of ECCC, can be easily recognised by the pigmented sections of her trunk. [Photo © Wildlife SOS/ Mradul Pathak]

Seeing this elderly matriarch lead her life with pure panache has been a rewarding result for not only the rescue team, but also for the staff present at the ECCC. Their efforts have ensured that she receives the compassionate care she deserves after years of facing torture. To help us sustain the welfare of our ageing pachyderm, consider sponsoring Phoolkali!

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