Posted on 12th Apr, 2015: Remember those guys who rescued Raju the elephant who spent 50 years in chains and cried when he was rescued last year? They are the good people at Wildlife SOS, a not-for-profit organisation, based in New Delhi, that operates the largest rescue and rehabilitation network in South Asia. With 10 rescue centres across India - including the Leopard Rescue Centre in Junnar near Pune, WSOS also runs the world's largest sloth bear rescue centre and two Elephant Conservation and Care Centres which house 14 rescued elephants.
In a late night operation this week, 10-member WSOS team raided the Moonlight Circus in Nanded, Maharashtra, along with local police and officials from the district administration. The Nut Herd – six-year-old Peanut, 12-year-old Coconut, 18-year-old Macadamia and 22-year-old Walnut, were pulled out from the circus after a court ordered their release. The circus had been derecognized by Central Zoo Authority of India and their permission to use animals for performance was cancelled by the Animal Welfare Board. Police rescued many other animals as well including birds, horses and big cats, and slapped ‘cruelty to animal’ charges against the circus officials. And that’s not all – last month, the owner and several officials were arrested after charges of rape and child trafficking were levelled against them.
Abused Animals Find an Advocate
Wildlife SOS ran a successful sloth bear rescue operation from 1996 onwards, wherein they provided men from the Kalandar community with jobs and education to ensure that they do not turn to their age old profession of capturing Indian sloth bear to dance at local events. By December 2009, they had successfully freed what is believed to be the last dancing bear of India.
After the resounding success of that operation, they have now set their sights on the pachyderms employed as entertainers in circuses across the country. Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-Founder of Wildlife SOS, who was present during the Nanded rescue operation said, “To see the rescued elephants free, wallowing in a pool is indeed gratifying. This is the first step in this long journey of rescuing India’s 67 circus elephants”. The elephants first appeared on WSOS’s radar in August 2014, after which the organisation has been compiling information about the pachyderms most in need of rescue.
The Nanded circus elephants were housed in cruel conditions with both their front and back legs bound by ropes. They spent their days standing in their own faeces and urine and were malnourished. The organisation found them in poor mental and physical health. Now, they need all the care and comfort that we can muster.
The sight of these gentle giants on Indian roads is uncomfortably common. Claiming it to be a part of Indian culture, men ‘employ’ these animals as entertainers for marriages and festival celebrations, while, in reality, the animal is simply an easy-money trick. Not getting the food and care they need, these animals are exploited. "A lot of these elephants are chained 23 to 24 hours a day sometimes and given very little breaks. That impacts their mental health quite severely," Kartick told Australia’s ABC News. And when they are not chained or working, they are walking on busy, hot tarred roads which hurts their feet. Elephants also get into traffic accidents from being spooked by traffic or improperly directed by the mahout. Delhi government seems to have woken up to this fact and stopped issuing licenses to elephant keepers in the city. There are only 8 licensed working elephants in the city today, assures the state government. But animal welfare organisations claim that there are close to 40 unregistered animals working illegally in the city. At least, one can hope that now that there shall be no new licenses issued, there may be a crackdown on these elephant handlers from hell.
King-size fun and frolic
On the bright side, the rescued circus elephants are currently on their way to the Wildlife SOS Elephant Rescue Centre in Haryana. They have stopped over at a transit facility in Pune to rest up for the long journey ahead of them. “The transit facility where the Wildlife SOS team and the four elephants will halt briefly has been provided by ResQ and Protecterra who are Pune based organizations with who we worked while rescuing a blind elephant from Pune called ‘Lakhi’ a few weeks ago,” informed Geeta Seshamani, Co-founder of Wildlife SOS.
"RESQ is excited to partner with Wildlife SOS for the transit housing of the rescued elephants,” added Neha Panchamiya of RESQ Pune, “When we worked with Wildlife SOS on Lakhi elephant rescue, we established a good working relationship with Wildlife SOS after which I visited their Elephant Care Center in Mathura to learn about elephant care. The Wildlife SOS veterinarians and elephant care staff are with the Nut Herd round the clock to ensure their safety and protection.”
Make room for elephants
So the big mammal saga doesn’t end there. As it turns out Raja, the emotional elephant, has a childhood friend who is still being held captive and worked to the bone in Uttar Pradesh. “Mohan is chained up when he isn’t being worked. He has no shelter, and has become severely dehydrated and malnourished. It will take us some time to bring him back to good health,” said Kartick.
As per the last update from the last week of March, a 55 member team – comprising WSOS member and the local police - attempted to sedate and bring Mohan to the rescue centre, but were accosted by a 300 member crowd of locals, in Lalganj in UP, who prevented them from doing so. They rescuers had to disperse and regroup, to come up with another strategy.
If you wish to donate for the ongoing care, treatment, rehabilitation and basic infrastructure for the four rescued elephants and others, go to the website mentioned below. WSOS also runs a wildlife hotline in Delhi and an anti-poaching wildlife crime enforcement unit which you can call into if you see something worth reporting. Log on to www.wildlifesos.org or call Delhi NCT Region: +91-9871963535; Agra: +91-9917190666; Vadodra in Gujarat: +91-9825011117, for more information.