Our “Warrior” of the Month: Priyanka

April 6, 2020 | By Mahima Sharma

With depigmentation bordering her perfectly symmetrical ears and her long lashes covering her eyes, when Priyanka steps out of her enclosure to indulge in a glorious dust bath, everybody wants to witness this sight, for this is the time that Priyanka is carefree and not a victim of her past that haunts her! This beautiful elephant is the glaring example of glory, courage, healing and victory as she emerged from a painful, brutal past that only she remembers.

Priyanka enjoys the sun in her enclosure! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Akash Dolas]

Abused as a begging elephant, with her life guided by the sharp, stinging pain of an ankush (bullhook) poking behind her ear and pushing her forward into narrower lanes and smaller streets, only for the sake of her owner earning a few pennies, for Priyanka, freedom was nothing more than what her owner defined for her. Even from this insubstantial amount of money, Priyanka never got anything more than some dry grass and water to call a meal and her health deteriorated, making her weak. What’s worse than being navigated through concrete roads in hail, rain, heat and bone-chilling winters is the fact that Priyanka could not do anything about it. With little children tugging at her tail, pulling at her ear for a ride, throwing small pebbles at her, any reaction from Priyanka meant a worse action that her owner would take against her. Her body hosts scars that scream of horrors she has gone through!

When Priyanka wanted to rest for the night, she would not be allowed any respite, instead, she would be chained and dragged to be a part of marriage ceremonies and religious processions where heavy ornaments would adorn her and the loud noise of beating drums, and someone sitting atop her for the sake of looking “royal”. An exhausted Priyanka grew aversive to humans for their insensitivity to her condition and weaker in her legs due to her monotonous, tiring routine.

Brutalised her entire life, Priyanka grew aversive to human interaction! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Akash Dolas]

The dawn of 23rd of November, Wildlife SOS was all set to rescue Priyanka from her abusive past and welcome her to her forever home at the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre in Mathura. Understanding her unfair interaction to humans, Priyanka was not very comfortable during her 6-hour journey to the Centre and was confused at the massive size of the Ambulance, wondering where her life was now heading to. Initially uncertain and apprehensive to the familiar sounds of trumpets and rumbles that came from around her, Priyanka took her time to get off the Elephant Ambulance, being lured by sugarcanes and watermelons. Taking small steps to her enclosure with her keeper gently guiding her, Priyanka was welcomed to her spacious enclosure. Priyanka shares a cordial relationship with her keepers, Asif and Somveer and has gradually established a trustworthy rapport with them, especially Somveer. Quick to walk over to him, each time that he calls out to her, Priyanka is always on a lookout for him because he puts some extra treats of dates and jaggery her way when she comes to him!

Priyanka picking up new smells around her! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Akash Dolas]

Brutal captivity can hugely affect the mental health of an animal, especially social animals like elephants who rely on herd relationships to nurture and thrive, and Priyanka is a clear example of that. In her first few months, Priyanka showed signs of intense stereotypic behaviour by constant and aggressive head-bobbing and swaying, showing her discomfort and stress. She would not let veterinarians near her for treatment because she just could not trust humans, nor was she comfortable around them, hence we had no choice but to give her time. Priyanka would be spotted digging the mud in her enclosure and collecting some in her trunk to carefully examine what exactly the softness feels like beneath her tormented feet and bruised footpads. It was during this routine that she understood what a dust bath is, almost as though rediscovering who she really is – a magnificent pachyderm!

Her compromised mental health is the reason that she prefers to stay alone, and doesn’t interact with other elephants. Unable to trust her surroundings or understand what a loving environment feels like, Priyanka is one of the rare examples of a solitary female, which is difficult to imagine considering elephant herds are matriarchal in nature and these majestic animals are very social. Our beloved, shy Priyanka has come a long way from her past to a point where we witness a little more of her true self each day – especially when she goes to her pool! A complete water baby, Priyanka loves to step into her pool and stay there for hours pouring trunkful of water all around her, completely immersing herself.

Priyanka is the rare example of a solitary female, who does not enjoy herd interactions and prefers to stay alone! [Photo (c) Wildlife SOS/Akash Dolas]

Presently, Priyanka is only rendered medicated epsom footbath for her feet with turmeric and magnesium oxide that helps in the healing of torn footpads and speeds up the recovery of toenail abscesses and wounded cuticles. Not only this, Priyanka is also munching on a steady diet of 25kgs of sugarcanes and green fodder along with cabbage, jackfruit and apples!

What Priyanka remembers of her past will always stay with her, but what she knows now is that in the end, there were some good people who came in her life, though much later, to help her heal and to reassure her every step of the way that she is not alone in this journey.

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