Agra, 2017.06.15 (Aditya Devi, The Times of India): Wildlife SOS has rescued a 70-year-old elephant from Aundh in Satara amidst heavy police protection with cooperation from the forest department and has moved the elephant to the Elephant Conservation and Care Center in Mathura. The controversial elephant – ‘Gajraj’ – belonging to the Queen of Aundh was used in temple processions for over 51 years. With advancing age, the elephant was found to be suffering from several medical issues like foot abscess, partial blindness etc. The magnificent elephant will now be transferred to the lifetime care of Wildlife SOS at their Elephant Care and Conservation Center (ECCC) in Mathura – the first ever center of its kind.
For over five decades, Gajraj performed his duties as a temple elephant where local devotees saw him as an icon of worship as he played an important role in festivities and temple processions. His long journey as a temple elephant came to an abrupt end today as he finally retired and was moved in the Wildlife SOS Elephant Ambulance from Satara to Mathura for his long term medical treatment and lifetime care.
A medical examination had revealed that Gajraj required medical attention for his toenail abscess which could spread to the bone in addition to the hip abscesses while his foot pads suffered severe degeneration. This made him a candidate for geriatric lifetime care at Wildlife SOS Elephant Center.
The royal family of Aundh gave him a warm farewell. The local villagers, however, became very emotional and hostile as Gajraj was getting ready to leave, gathering in large numbers, with things taking an ugly twist as the mob became unruly. With each minute the atmosphere became tense and the Wildlife SOS team came under attack from a stone-pelting mob. A large police force was deployed to ensure protection for the Wildlife SOS rescue team who were there on the request of the Maharashtra Forest Department. Eventually, the elephant was placed inside the Ambulance that had travelled over 1500 kms from Mathura to Satara to collect him, said SOS officials.
Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder Wildlife SOS said, “We are grateful to the forest department and the police for extending their support to help this elephant. The advancing age of this elephant means more he needs a lot of medical care more than anything else. We shall give him the best of care. We appreciate that the Queen of Aundh has handed over the elephant trusting Wildlife SOS”
Geeta Seshamani, co-founder Wildlife SOS said, “The Wildlife SOS elephant conservation and care center provides a safe sanctuary to elephants requiring long-term medical care and rehabilitation. Gajraj can now live a retired life for the rest of his life; however long his geriatric body can support him.”
Dr Yaduraj Khadpekar, senior veterinarian, said, “Being chained for most of each day has had a detrimental effect on Gajraj’s health. He is very thin with opacity in his right eye as well as nutritional deficiencies. He also has a serious toenail abscess in his right front foot and left hind foot, as well as severe wear and tear of his foot pads, which makes him prone to lameness and foot injuries due to soft tissue exposure.”
Deputy conservator of forests Anil Ajankar said, “It took several days to convince the irate public to not prevent shifting of the elephant. I’m relieved this has ended well and the elephant is safe.”
Wasim Akram, Wildlife SOS coordinator, said “Our entire team was in a lot of danger as we were attacked by stones, but police presence helped us move the elephant and our team to safety.”