Wildlife SOS has been rescuing wildlife in distress in India since its inception in 1995, and started its elephant rescue program some years later in 2009 with the rescue of Champa, an abused begging elephant in Uttar Pradesh. The organisation has since rescued 22 more elephants from abuse and neglect in captivity, as working or performing elephants used for rides, begging, or entertainment in circuses.
“Having worked with rescued captive elephants for seven years now, I can say for sure that elephants are nothing short of inspiring. There’s so much people can learn from them,” says Geeta Seshamani, co-founder of Wildlife SOS.
Wildlife SOS Co-founder, Kartick Satyanarayan states, “Elephants are so unique and special, yet they are the target of poachers and at the mercy of abusive owners all over the country and the world. We hope that a better understanding of these amazing creatures and their vital place in the ecosystem encourages people to be kinder to them, to avoid encouraging abuse in circuses and other captive situations, and to do their bit to help conserve this species.”
This World Elephant Day, we’re paying homage to these fantastic animals, by counting down the top ten reasons we love elephants, and why humankind should aspire to be a little more like these amazing pachyderms.
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1. Elephants are Feminists! Elephant herds are matriarchal, and the matriarch holds the key position in the herd.
Even at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, Mathura, the elephants adopted one of the older females – Asha, who formerly gave rides to tourists at Jaipur’s Amer Fort – as their matriarch. Asha leads the girls when they are out on their walks, taking special care to guide and keep an eye on blind elephants Lakhi and Suzy. And when Asha trumpets, the other elephants gather around, even the naughtiest of the babies! There’s no messing with this massive matriarch.
2. Elephants make great friends. Elephants in the wild are known to form incredibly strong social bonds, and go out of their way to help each other out.
At ECCC, nobody epitomises that better than Maya, the generally stoic female, who formed an instant bond with blind elephant Phoolkali shortly after the latter was rescued. The two have been inseparable ever since, and rely on each other for comfort and companionship.
3. Elephants are resourceful. Elephants repeatedly prove their genius by adapting to any situation with ease and resourcefulness.
They use dust and mud to keep their skin safe from irritants and the sun, and have been known in the wild to induce labour in pregnant elephants by self-medicating with natural herbs! They can turn a tree into a scratching post, a tyre into a toy and use branches to itch otherwise hard-to-reach places!
4. Elephants are all about teamwork! Elephants understand that they’re stronger as a herd, and herds will work together to get out of sticky situations.
When rescued circus elephant Sita collapsed one night at the rescue facility, the other elephants made multiple heartfelt attempts to lift her back to her feet, eventually trumpeting together loudly to get the attention of the staff that were able to get to Sita in time to get her safely back on her feet.
5. Elephants are fast learners. With one of the largest and most complex brains in the living world, it’s no surprise that elephants are incredibly intelligent.
At ECCC, Wildlife SOS keepers and vets use positive reinforcement to teach the elephants to cooperate during the lifesaving veterinary treatment they get – and it took the elephants no time at all to figure out that cooperating with the vets meant they’d get a delicious fruit treat! This intelligence and quick learning ability makes it even sadder (and redundant!) when captive elephants are subjected to beatings and abuse as part of their ‘training’ process and indoctrination into captivity.
6. Elephants make great parents. In the wild, elephants are incredibly protective and nurturing of their young, even adopting orphaned calves and looking out for babies that aren’t their own.
Obtaining elephants for captivity involves poaching calves from the wild, snatching them from their doting mothers and families when they are still very young. The youngest elephants at ECCC, Peanut and Coco, were immediately adopted by Asha’s herd, and are being brought up by blind female elephant Lakhi, with all the love and attention of a truly dedicated mother!
7. Elephants are excellent communicators. Elephants have been known to communicate over extremely long distances, and through a startling array of sounds some of which humans can’t even hear! Elephants even communicate through smell, touch, taste, and low frequency vibrations.
When circus elephant Rhea was reunited with her two best friends Mia and Sita at ECCC, the three girls spent hours catching up, patting each other down, rumbling and smelling each other!
8. Elephants are environmentalists! Knowing that their environment is incredibly important, these gentle giants do more than their share to keep it healthy.
Elephant movement in the wild contributes greatly to dispersion of seeds, the creation of small water holes, clearing of old forest, and regeneration of new forest cover!
9. Elephants know how to have fun. Baby elephants are always full of energy and playful spirit, but their curiosity and inherent playfulness doesn’t run out even when they are adults.
At ECCC, the elephants derive endless hours of uninhibited fun playing with tyres, engaging in trunk tussles with each other, splashing in their pools or wallowing in naturally formed mud ponds!
10. Elephants don’t forget, but they do forgive! Elephants are known to have excellent memories but Wildlife SOS’ experience shows they don’t hold grudges!
Despite the years of cruelty meted out to them by their former human owners, Wildlife SOS’ rescued elephants are kind and gentle with their new caretakers and even with the visitors and volunteers that come by to see them, slowly learning to trust people.
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