One whole year has passed in the blink of an eye, and here we are, coming together to celebrate Emma’s first rescue anniversary. But it was all a very different story a year ago. When we found Emma, this 40-yea-old elephant had spent most of her life walking along busy streets from state to state, begging for alms, giving tourist rides and performing in wedding processions and religious ceremonies. At night, she was tightly restrained, preventing her from lying down and resting. She was fed an unhealthy diet of sweets and fried foods that left her immunity and health severely compromised.
In January 2021, Emma was made to walk over 500 km and trafficked illegally across state borders into Jharkhand, completely unaware that her life was about take a turn for the better. As it turned out, the Forest Department caught wind of the situation and upon interrogating her owner, found that he held no valid documentation. Wildlife SOS sprang into action when the Forest Department reached out to us regarding Emma’s medical condition with a request that the ailing elephant be shifted to the Wildlife SOS Elephant Hospital in Mathura for urgent treatment.
Upon initial medical assessment, the Wildlife SOS team found out how terrible her feet condition was, and that she had to alternate lifting her weight between her right and left leg while standing. This was caused by years of abuse resulting in degenerative joints disease of the forelimbs. The veterinary doctors also discovered and removed sharp stones, pebbles and glass shards embedded in her foot pad, which had caused necrosis in the surrounding tissue.
On further investigation, we were shocked to learn that Emma was regularly force-fed crude country liquor to force her to work despite the pain in her legs. When questioned, her owners said they couldn’t afford proper medical treatment! Wildlife SOS dispatched a team of veterinary experts and elephant care staff from the Elephant Hospital travelled over 1,100 km to Dhanbad in Jharkhand in the elephant ambulance to facilitate Emma’s medical treatment and transport back to Mathura.
All those images are now a thing of the past and today after a year, Emma’s safe rehabilitation has paved the way for her steady progress at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Centre (ECCC). Although the embedded debris from her foot pads led to her developing seriously infected abscesses which left sizeable holes in her delicate foot pads, our veterinarians make sure that there is no shortcoming in her health management. Regular treatment is carried out for her feet condition which include cleaning them with saline solution and medicated foot baths of Epsom salt and turmeric.
Emma goes out for a walk twice, once in the morning and once in the evening, which is a routine keeping in mind the need to exercise her limbs and avoid lethargy. But she doesn’t do so alone, since she has made a couple of friends (and close ones too!). Our resident best friend duo Maya and Phoolkali have formed a close bond with Emma in the past year and it is usually Maya who leads the walks, often pausing for Emma to catch up.
Since Emma has remained in isolation for years, alien to the idea of bonding with other elephants, this socialisation contributes positively to the elephant’s psychology. We have observed that Emma shows more inclination towards Phoolkali than Maya but nevertheless, its fills our hearts to see the fruitful impact their companionship has had on Emma’s recovery journey.
That Emma loves water and taking baths is no secret. Apart from frequent dips in the Yamuna river, she is also fond of the jumbo pool in her enclosure. Even on cooler days she can be seen taking a splash to relax herself, and sometimes she gets so immersed that it is difficult to even get her out of the pool.
When we first brought Emma to ECCC she was underweight and emaciated but since then, she has gained 600 kg. This has only been possible since our vets keep a regular tab on her weight and have prepared a proper diet for Emma which includes an intake of porridge (mixed with her joint supplements) every afternoon. Her diet also consists of fruits – the favourite being sugarcane – but she also lets everyone know about her affinity for cucumbers and pumpkins very clearly.
A significant part of Emma’s life also has to do with enrichments, so all throughout the day we place enrichment items in her enclosure. This is usually to stimulate an elephant mentally or psychologically so that they don’t experience boredom. In Emma’s case, we have a net made of nylon ropes which is suspended from the roof of her enclosure, where sugarcane and other fodder is placed. So she has to go the extra mile by manoeuvring around the nets in order to fetch them with her trunk.
All these small instances and little developments give us hope for a brighter future for our Elephant of the Month, even though she has a long way to go for her physical and mental scars to be healed. For that very purpose, our brilliant team of elephant care staff and veterinarians are working relentlessly, and you too can always support Emma in her path to recovery. You can play a crucial role in supporting Emma’s journey with us by considering becoming a monthly donor or a sponsor and making a contribution to her ongoing care and treatment.