Trunk Tales: Suzy, The Eldest Pachyderm At ECCC

March 27, 2023 | By Mansi Sharma
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The history of circuses and their treatment of elephants is a dark and sordid tale that spans many decades. For animals, bright lights and loud noises of the circus ring are a far cry from their natural habitat. Magnificent creatures from the wild were thrust into a life of captivity and servitude, all for the sake of human entertainment and profit.

Suzy was a victim of exploitation in the circus industry, forced to endure neglect and perform for profit. [Photo (c)Wildlife SOS]

Suzy too had endured 60 long years in the dingy and oppressive confines of the circus tents. This gentle giant was subjected to unspeakable cruelty, and was forced to perform unnatural tricks and stunts against her very nature. Such harsh conditions put her physical and mental wellbeing at risk. The deafening roar of the crowd, coupled with the piercing cracks of the trainer’s whip, became the soundtrack of her existence, leaving scars that were both visible and invisible. Chained by misery, her plight spoke of a sorrowful tale of exploitation, abuse, and captivity. 

But Suzy’s life was about to change. Once apprised of her situation, the Wildlife SOS team rushed to her aid. Suzy was finally liberated from the shackles that had her bound. With tender coaxing and a bounty of delectable treats such as bananas and watermelon, our skilled veterinarians were able to guide her into a truck. Once on board, she was transported to the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre (ECCC) located in Mathura, Uttar Pradesh. As she took her first, tentative steps at ECCC in February 2015, Suzy’s eyes glimmered with a newfound hope towards a brighter future. The path towards healing and recovery was ready to welcome Suzy.

Suzy has overcome numerous adversities, and is the oldest elephant under our care at Elephant Conservation and Care Centre.  [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

Today, the 72-year-old pachyderm is one of the oldest elephants under our care, and receives specialised geriatric supervision so she can withstand the onslaught of age-related infirmities. Her time as a performing elephant had left Suzy with barely any vision in both her eyes. From the hesitant and malnourished elephant that first arrived at ECCC, Suzy has undergone an incredible transformation. Now, she can be seen basking in her vast enclosure, hardly recognisable from her former self. When not lounging, she delights in filling her trunk with cool water from the pool to playfully shower herself.

As the morning sun rises, Suzy’s caregiver approaches her with a soft touch to rouse her from a peaceful slumber. With treats in hand, he guides her on their daily morning walk. Knowing the importance of these walks to Suzy’s wellbeing, the caregiver ensures that she feels at ease and is content by providing her with treats along the way. 

Mud baths can help elephants relieve stress and promote relaxation, as well as provide relief from skin irritations or insect bites.  [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Shresatha Pachori]

Returning from a walk, Suzy enjoys a refreshing dip in the pool, where the water’s soothing touch helps her to relax her limbs. The bath acts as a perfect preparation for her daily medical treatment by our veterinary team. After her bath, Suzy indulges in nearly 20 kg of watermelons and bananas. She savours a meal of porridge offered to her in the afternoon. 

Since elephants in the wild spend about 12-20 hours of the day eating, our caregivers have to work hard to ensure that the dietary needs of our resident elephants are met. To ensure optimal health during the summer months, diet plans for elephants undergo slight modifications, including an increase in supplements. These supplements are complemented by the flavourful mix of ghee, concentrated ragi feed with the addition of mashala, which is a blend of asafoetida, garlic, ginger, and fennel seeds. This potent blend aids in Suzy’s digestion and helps alleviate the discomforts associated with the summer season such as dehydration and heat stress.

Suzy has a healthy appetite, and consumes up to 20 kg of food in each meal! Her nourishment regime is tailored to her needs, with a generous serving of nutritious porridge enriched with grains and pulses to keep her physically fit. Suzy lacks molar teeth, which makes it difficult for her to chew on hard fruits and sugarcane. To better suit her needs, she is given mashed and easily digestible food items instead.

Suzy likes fruits, and bananas are certainly one of her favourites! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

Interestingly, Suzy is quite mindful of her teeth, and knows what she can and cannot eat. This makes her selective of the choices available while she is foraging during her brief strolls. Suzy has a special fondness for berseem, particularly it’s leafy part. In case berseem is not available, the team makes sure to provide her with other kinds of soft grasses such as napier, which are abundant around our facility. 

Suzy’s acute senses play a vital role in determining her meal times. With no sight to rely on, she employs her inquisitive trunk to explore her surroundings and locate her food. Additionally, her sharp hearing allows her to pick up her caregiver’s calls, especially during her afternoon porridge time.

With her impressive trunk dexterity, Suzy procures her enrichments with utmost finesse. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

Suzy’s enclosure is equipped with a cage feeder enrichment, for which she uses her dextrous trunk to manoeuvre and extract the sugarcane stalks in it. This engaging activity encourages Suzy to stimulate her mind as well. She eagerly embarks on her second walk of the day in the evening, along with her caregiver. Her day ends in the safety of her enclosure, where she can get the rest she needs.

The team at the centre keeps a close eye on Suzy’s health and preferences, making sure to monitor these regularly. Despite her advanced age, Suzy’s overall health remains stable; her legs are in good shape and allow her to move around with ease. This is an encouraging sign, as older elephants often face challenges with mobility.

Suzy in her jumbo jacket, helping her to stay warm during the cold winters. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Shresatha Pachori]

As part of the winter management efforts, all the elephant enclosures were covered with tarpaulin sheets to shield them from the chilly winds. Suzy’s caretaker made sure that she wore a jumbo jacket lined with fleece, tailored to accommodate her age-related needs. While elephants in the wild can find shelter from the cold breeze amidst the jungles, at ECCC, the enclosures are located in open areas and therefore require such interventions. In addition to these, halogen and sodium lamps were installed for warmth within Suzy’s enclosure. These measures ensured that Suzy remained comfortable throughout the winter months.

In the summer season, the team takes proactive measures to ensure that the water sprinklers are fully operational and the pools are scrupulously maintained. For the latter, a rigorous cleaning schedule and a steadfast commitment to keeping the pools filled at all times is followed. This way, the magnificent creatures are able to regulate their body temperature and stay cool amidst the sweltering heat.

Summer season and swimming pools are inherently connected, and for Suzy, her love for water is particularly profound. Suzy doesn’t miss any opportunity to take a revitalising dip in the jumbo pool present within the expanse of her capacious enclosure – even on those days when temperatures are slightly lower. Suzy’s caretaker ensures that the pool remains an oasis of delight for Suzy!

Suzy’s caregiver takes her on slow-paced walks everyday. [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Mradul Pathak]

Navigating the social world as a blind elephant can be an arduous task. With no visual cues to guide them, these majestic giants must rely on their heightened sense of hearing and smell to navigate their surroundings. As a result, they can often be more anxious and apprehensive than their sighted counterparts. Suzy’s caregiver has taken it upon himself to ensure that all of Suzy’s needs are met. With unwavering commitment, he devotes his time and energy to accompanying Suzy on her walks, and providing her with the care and attention she deserves.

Over the years, Suzy has demonstrated grit and determination to recover from the hardships she was subjected to. She is a calm and reserved elephant, but shares a special bond with her caregiver. In the animal kingdom, just as it is in the world of human beings, love and companionship can help overcome even the greatest of obstacles. To support the care and management of elephants at our centres, click here.

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