Mumbai, 2017.08.10 (Rizwan Mithawala, TNN): Four years ago, when young Laxmi was rescued from begging outside temples in Mulund, the 18-year-old could not walk properly and a crane had to lift her on to a truck for her journey to a new life. For, the elephant had been feeding on sugary prasad from temples and 200 vada pavs a day, and had become obese— at 5000 kgs, she was overweight by 1800 kgs. Laxmi’s companion elephant, suffering from similar health issues due to severe neglect, had collapsed and died in front of her eyes.
Today, she not only walks gleefully, but also plays in a pool and wallows in the mud as she has shed 700 kgs during her stay at Mathura’s Elephant Conservation and Care Center (ECCC) run by wildlife conservation charity Wildlife SOS. She was put on a calibrated diet of green fodder and nutritious vegetables. The abscesses in her feet have now healed and Vitamin D3 supplements keep her arthritis in check.
“For a young elephant of 18 years, being 1,800-kg overweight could have severely impacted her ability to live,” said Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of the conservation charity. Elephants life for 40 to 65 years.
“She had those mental scars (the companion’s death),” said Satyanarayan. “She was severely traumatised and frightened of other elephants too.” After four years of love and medical care, she has transformed into a gregarious and playful elephant. She is particularly fond of the bulls, and squeals with excitement whenever she smells or sights one of them while out on her walks. “She is the only one who squeals in this typical happy tone,” says Satyanarayan. She enjoys two walks every day with her friends-Bijli and Chanchal.
But Satyanarayan and Laxmi cannot rest easy yet. “We are still caught in a court battle to retain her custody as her previous ‘illegal’ owner and abuser still claims ownership and keeps filing cases in different courts,” he said. “The legal battle is taking up a lot of our resources but we are committed to Laxmi and will not let her down.” Laxmi was poached as a calf from her wild herd and initially trained to work at a circus. Later, the female elephant was used for begging outside temples in Mulund.
Wildlife SOS is providing critical medical treatment and care to 24 elephants rescued from circuses, street begging and manual labour. While 21 of them enjoy the comforts of the care centre in Mathura, three are housed at a similar facility in Haryana. “Every elephant you see in captivity is stolen from its mother at a very young age; once in captivity, it is tied up and beaten for months to break its spirit. Later, sophisticated pain inflicting tools are used to make it submissive and obedient,” he said while speaking at an awareness event about the plight of elephants in the country hosted by the Royal Western Indian Turf Club (RWITC) at the Mahalaxmi racecourse on Friday.
The club along with the horse owners’ association presented a cheque of Rs5 lakh for the care of these elephants. “We are all animal lovers. We are supporting a good cause by raising awareness and helping protect elephants,” said Vivek Jain, chairman of RWITC.
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