It seems not long ago that circuses across the country would be jam-packed with an audience ranging from toddlers to older people who would eagerly anticipate a jumbo wearing colourful jackets walking into the performing area to stand on its two legs or lift a human up with their dexterous trunks! By the end of the show, when everyone would have had their fill of laughter and entertainment, they would return to their homes but these elephants would be chained to concrete surfaces with little ventilation and a few sugarcanes to suffice for a meal. Such was the deplorable condition of performing elephants in the country, such was the story of four young elephants at a circus in Maharashtra.
Ripped from their herds at a young age, these elephants knew of no family, love and care other than a brutal blow of a whip or a bullhook that would subject them to the same torturous routine of performing unnatural tricks for the audience. An audience that was unaware of the physical and psychological torture these four elephants were put through.
Five years ago, Wildlife SOS decided to end their tryst with torture and rescued these four elephants from the circus, with the youngest one being merely 6 years of age and the oldest among them being 22 years old. We lovingly named them “the Nut Herd” – Peanut, Coconut, Walnut and Macadamia, and thus, started their healing journey with us at Wildlife SOS. Being younger elephants, they had experienced nothing but pain and discomfort at the hands of humans which is why it was imperative, for our veterinarians and elephant care staff, to give them the time that they need to get used to their surroundings.
Peanut, being the youngest, was only 6 years old and it was heartbreaking to witness this young calf display stereotypic behaviour by aggressively bobbing her tiny head. Peanut would stand in the corner with Coconut, 12 years old when she was rescued, close to her and would be extremely anxious about her surroundings. Peanut’s solace came with Lakhi, who immediately took Peanut and Coconut under her wings and the three developed a special bond as they’d go on walks together. The most pleasant sleep Peanut would have was with Lakhi standing protectively over her while she snored. Gradually, both Coconut and Peanut grew comfortable with their new life, only to grow up 5 years later, to be the most mischievous and playful elephants under our care!
Presently, Peanut and Coconut munch on a carefully charted diet packed with all the essential nutrients that are needed by them for their healthy growth, this includes sugarcanes, green fodder, green bananas, pumpkins and cabbage. Though not fussy eaters, Peanut is not overtly fond of the cooked concentrate that is fed to her and is sure to break it down to tiny pieces, making a complete mess! Coconut is far more patient and cooperative but flatly refuses to eat jackfruit and pumpkins which is why her keeper has to keep all options open. Their favourite part of the day is the long walk they take along the riverside of Yamuna every morning, almost always diverting their path to take a quick dip into the river. Their quick dip, however, is about 45 minutes long as they do not wish to leave the water no matter how many times they are lured with dates and peanuts.
Walnut and Macadamia, on the other hand, being young male elephants really took a long time to get used to the new surroundings and were temperamental initially. Unable to trust the humans who put them through insurmountable measures of pain, they would not let the veterinarians approach them for treatment. As time progressed and they were made familiar with the technique of positive conditioning, contrary to the punishments they were given at the circus for not complying, their trust grew and they felt more at home.
Today, Walnut and Macadamia are healthy, young bulls. Presently, Walnut is in musth which is a healthy phenomenon in adult male elephants when they experience heightened levels of testosterone, making them highly unpredictable, moody and aggressive. Having access to his pool in his free-ranging enclosure, Walnut loves to go for an occasional dip in the pool, completely immersing himself in the water and relaxing. His diet presently includes watermelons, sugarcanes, green fodder and pumpkins.
For our dearest Mac, who is now 27 years old, there is no better place than his pool! He thoroughly enjoys his time there, splashing around water and even munching on watermelons while he takes a dip. When not in the pool, Macadamia will be spotted in the middle of luxurious dust baths covering himself completely in the mud. In the storm of dust, his depigmented trunk will be lifting high to occasionally greet his dear neighbour, Gajraj!
The Nut Herd instantly ruled the hearts of everyone who laid their eyes on them, in these 5 years. Who walked in as weak, malnourished, stressed and broken have all grown into their individual personalities, always making their keepers run around to fulfill their whims and fancies – considering that is the least we can do for these playful pachyderms!
On completing their 5-year journey of recovery and rediscovering their innocence and zeal for life, here’s wishing our lovely Nut Herd a happy rescue-versary!!