by- Suvidha Bhatnagar
Wildlife SOS is the first Indian organization to put their concern about the plight of captive elephants in entertainment & tourism into action. Four years ago the Mathura rescue centre in collaboration with Project Elephant and the Government of Uttar Pradesh was started, and our first experience of the trauma undergone by the circus elephants began with the rescue of Rajesh and Maya.
Circus elephants are usually found in a pathetic state, suffering from bad health, mental & physical (chained all the time), and they suffer from complete lack of exercise and standing in their own feces for long hours. They are provided with no enrichment and fed an unbalanced diet with no nutritional value.
Maya was a circus elephant and was working in Asian Circus for 15 years. At the time of rescue, she was really skinny; she never seemed to get enough to eat at the circus. She was forced to perform tricks and was beaten until she learned to hit a ball with a bat and play football with the clowns. When Maya arrived at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Care and Conservation Centre at Mathura, she weighed 3,890 kilos (8,558 pounds). Now she weighs 4,700 kilos (10,340 pounds), which is just right for a big elephant like Maya. Her favorite food is musk melons, which are a bit like cantaloupes. The day she arrived and for the next couple of months, Maya wasn’t quite sure she’d been rescued, and she was still suspicious of everyone and wouldn’t allow anyone near her, neither would she form friends with other elephants. Over the months, a lot of kind words from the patient, caring staff of Wildlife SOS have transformed Maya into a happy, trusting elephant.
Rajesh was also rescued from the Asian circus and was badly exploited by the circus owner. He was brutally beaten for long periods of time and was made to dance to music. When he arrived at the Rescue centre his legs were very weak and wobbly, caused by bad treatment, lack of exercise and foot care. Being a heavy set tusker, we were very worried about his feet and legs. He was an angry elephant too when he first came, and wouldn’t let anyone near him charging them. Rajesh was a circus elephant for 10 long years and was tortured using electric prods. Even after many months of his rescue, he would be both fearful & aggressive when the mahouts went past his pen with brooms. Today, his legs are strong again, and he loves going on long walks with the other elephants. Like Maya, he enjoys eating lots of fruit and has his own pool where he can have a dip whenever he likes or have a chat with Maya over the fence. Both Maya and Rajesh were rescued from the same circus.
Bijli was hit by a speeding vehicle while on the highway and her hind leg had set very badly leaving her with a permanent limp. A small sized gentle girl, Bijli had lived a harrowing life, changing owners frequently, malnourished, scrawny and defeated by life’s injustices. She was exploited in a circus and when the circus was shut down she was forced to beg on the streets. Bijli had known no respite from relentless work. In spite of an aching, badly set leg, she lugged her human cargo at fairs, stood patiently in finery at temples and marriages, endlessly groaning in pain with festering injuries and an indifferent owner.
Bijli had to undergo a different genre of torture altogether. Circus elephants are not used to walking for long hours, though poor Bijli was made to walk for hours on tar roads and was tormented by the owner. She was a confused elephant who was trying to adjust with the noise, constant honking and traffic. Wildlife SOS co-founders heard her groaning in pain and brought her to our centre in Mathura. After such a long span of pain and torment, Bijli now deserves to retire and live life on her own terms. Also known as Sai Geeta, Bijli has regained her health and loves eating fruits.
There are currently 67 elephants languishing in circuses in India that urgently need to be moved to elephant rehabilitation centers and camps. Wildlife SOS is now ready to take the first steps toward rescuing elephants like Suzy & Tara and all of the remaining circus elephants in India, in partnership with the government and other committed NGO’s
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