Elephant of the Month: Rajesh!

June 18, 2020 | By Mahima Sharma

If you ever had the chance to visit our Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, other than our staff or a glimpse of our elephants on a walk, there is one more prominent and powerful voice that will welcome you – a loud and clear trumpet that tears through the composed calm of the Centre! For us all working at the Centres, we casually roll our eyes and say, “oh, it’s Rajesh!” and before we are able to explain to you of Rajesh’s peculiar habit of trumpeting, he repeats it once more to make his point even more clear! It took Rajesh years and years of love, care and reassurance to rediscover his jovial, innocent side once more…

Rajesh was rescued as a performing elephant from a circus. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

Elephants being extremely intelligent and expressive animals are sure to express discomfort just as clearly as they display joy, but it is only for those who have the power to really see their pain and understand their happiness. Illegally poached from the wild, away from their herd, these intelligent animals are subjected to a lifetime of servitude by attacking and breaking their spirits, systematically. For each memory that they have of their childhood, nestled with their mothers and protected under their herd, a sharp jab of a stick, axe or a bull-hook comes tearing through that memory and the loud, helpless shrieks are seldom heard by none.

Rajesh’s story is similar to the fate of every other elephant in captivity that is abused as a performing elephant, doing unnatural tricks for the sake of entertainment – the only reward? A few extra fruits or another kilo of dry grass which is inadequate to meet the nutritional requirements for an elephant as majestic as Rajesh. His beautiful tusks were the ideal attraction for anyone that would come to watch the circus where Rajesh’s oppressive life had started, and where he was sure that it would end – away from the love and care that he deserves. He would stand on his hind legs, balance his weight on a ball and lift people on his trunk, failure to do that would be mindless beatings! What stayed with Rajesh was his perseverance and will-power that guided him through each and every step of the way, standing tall and undefeated in the face of brutality.

Surrounded by lush green fields, Rajesh now enjoys a free life away from a torturous routine! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Akash Dolas]

When Rajesh was rescued from the circus by Wildlife SOS, he entered his new healing phase of life with us at the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, the strength that he had kept up his entire life started to gradually wear off and the exhaustion kicked in. Surrounded by the loving touch of his keeper and a team of expert veterinarians that were regularly attending to him, Rajesh understood the true meaning of being cared for. It was at this moment that the psychological exhaustion made its way wherein Rajesh would spend hours at a stretch aggressively displaying stereotypic behaviour by bobbing and swaying his head. It would break our heart watching this beautiful elephant undergo stress, but we knew we had to give him time and keep him occupied with structural enrichments, exercised walks and endless pool-time.

On his walks, he loves picking out fresh grass and shrubs and munch on them! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Akash Dolas]

As time passed, Rajesh grew accustomed to his new home, interacting with Bhola, Maya and Bijli, our resident rescued pachyderms. Rajesh also spent time with Sanjay and Walnut, which hugely helped in his psychological healing. Being a performing elephant, Rajesh suffers from a chronic condition of arthritis and delicate, torn footpads that are treated through medicated footbaths of Epsom salt and turmeric along with the regular cleaning of his footpads and trimming of his toenails.

Suraj, Walnut and Rajesh (L-R) enjoying a feast! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

With summer months settled here to stay, Rajesh enjoys munching on his favourite jackfruit and watermelons along with sorghum fodder and green fodder. A complete foodie at heart, if anybody happens to pass Rajesh’s enclosure during his meal-time, irrelevant of whether or not he is acquainted to you, he will make a loud grunting noise, lift his trunk and open his mouth! More often than not, you will spot his keeper, exasperated at this habit of Rajesh’s, mumbling “You just had your meal, Rajesh, what more do you want?” When proper attention is not given to Rajesh by his keeper, he is sure to express his discord by loudly trumpeting, and it is the same trumpet that you hear resonating and echoing through our Centres!

Rajesh’s diet is carefully curated by our veterinarians and his keepers to keep a check on his weight. Additionally, he is given multivitamins and immunoboosters which help in maintaining internal strength and keeping a tab on his immunity to prevent any infection. He has a hanging hay-net enrichment in his enclosure which is filled with green fodder and jaggery, allowing him to lift his trunk and exercise his trunk, neck and back muscles when he pulls the fodder, with sheer strength.

Rajesh loves to spend hours at a time in the pool in his enclosure, as he splashes water around, thoroughly enjoying himself! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS]

For Rajesh, nearly 30 years were spent in abusive captivity, confined to concrete and chains, the last 10 years of his journey at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Centre have been a systematic escape from his past, embracing his freedom being surrounded by our resident elephants, a free-ranging enclosure, his caring keeper as well as his pool where he spends hours and hours splashing in sheer joy! Watching him undertake this brave journey has been nothing short of inspiration for all of us.

Our regal and playful Rajesh tugs at the strings of our hearts with this strength and innocence, each day! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Akash Dolas]

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