The poaching of wild elephants for captivity is not only unimaginably cruel to the individual elephants poached, it severely threatens the future of elephants in India. Following the capture from their natural habitat, abuse and suffering become an everyday life occurrence for these captive elephants.
Kalpana’s story is representative of the life of many begging elephants in India, whose owners view them only as money-making machines. Kalpana was a victim of this cruel commercial exploitation, and has been left with a lifetime of painful disabilities at the young age of just 35 to 40 years.
Life for Kalpana was a long continuous nightmare, from which she had no respite in sight. There was always more money to be earned, more places to be begged at and more processions to attend. Every ounce of strength that she had in her had a monetary value. Every day after a torturous session where her master would paint designs on her trunk, her strenuous routine of navigating through towns and villages to beg for alms would begin. It did not matter if walking on hot concrete were damaging her feet or if the sharp stones were leaving her with painful wounds, for if she resisted, she knew the consequence would be dire. Kalpana had learnt from a young age that if she expressed pain, she would be punished with even more pain.
This complete submission of Kalpana was a boon for her owner: he could make her work as much as he liked. Even after a long, tiring day, Kalpana was booked to go to weddings, religious ceremonies and processions. Jam-packed spaces and blaring sounds from the loud-speakers would add to her mental stress.
About half a year ago, Kalpana was adorned with heavy decorations to “grace” a wedding. The drill was simple: Kalpana would walk to the venue, stand there as people took photos of her, and then be walked back to wherever her keeper liked. However, things took a horrible turn that day. Under the influence of alcohol, Kalpana’s keeper made her step into a ditch. The uneven ground, coupled with the weight of the decorations over her, caused Kalpana to lose balance and injure her right front leg. However, instead of receiving immediate veterinary attention, her owner and keepers brushed the injury aside, deeming it nothing too serious. The owner was ready with his arsenal of tools to keep her walking. He would not shy away from poking the bull-hook behind her sensitive ears and/or poking it on her body. Despite the excruciating pain that she was in, Kalpana walked for hours and hours. Her painful injury never healed properly, and it subsequently led to the fusing of the joint in her front leg.
The world was literally a dark place for her: she is completely blind in her left eye and her right eye too has started to cloud. The only way she could navigate through her surroundings was through her strong sense of touch. For nearly four decades, there was nowhere she found comfort and repose. In fact, with every change of hands, a fresh new bout of cruelty came along. Kalpana was yet to meet kind hands. Hands that would understand her plight and put her misery to an end.
When our team found Kalpana in Firozabad, Uttar Pradesh, they saw this neglected pachyderm walking on tarred roads in the blazing sun, with her keepers sitting atop her. She was a sorry sight as she was wobbling to balance the weight on her back while walking with a stiff wrist. Her nails were overgrown and cracking, while her foot-pads appeared to be thinning. In fact, as she was eating the dirt and mud surrounding her, our team suspected that perhaps her gut was host to worms. Her sunken temples indicated that she was dehydrated as well. She needed urgent help and we worked quickly to bring it to her.
The Wildlife SOS Elephant Ambulance was en-route to bring Kalpana to the Wildlife SOS Elephant Hospital on the evening of March 31st, 2019. The ambulance was packed with watermelons, pumpkins, ripened bananas and sugarcane for dear Kalpana. The team comprised of our keepers, veterinarians and our co-founder Kartick Satyanarayan, who reached the site at midnight.
Kalpana was extremely calm and cooperative throughout the process of loading her onto the ambulance in the middle of an open field, as the keepers quickly found out that she had a soft spot for ripened bananas. Once loaded onto the truck, Kalpana’s journey towards a kinder future lasted nearly 4 hours, and she arrived at the breaking of dawn on the 1st of April.
At the WSOS Elephant Hospital, Kalpana will be subjected to a series of physical and serological examinations to better assess her health status. Following this, our team of veterinarians will develop an intensive treatment plan for her.
From the bottom of our hearts, we want to thank all our supporters who stood by Kalpana throughout this journey.