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Rescued Elephant Priyanka Celebrates Her First Year Of Freedom Thanks To Wildlife SOS

  • IWB Post
  •  November 30, 2018

Wildlife SOS is a non-profit organisation in India, established in 1995, working primarily towards rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife in distress. It also looks after preserving India’s natural heritage. Kartick Satyanarayan and Geeta Seshamani, the founders of Wildlife SOS, initially started working with a small team due to lack of support and funding to protect animals in distress. Today, they have branches in key states of the country.

Recently, they celebrated one year of freedom of a rescued elephant called Priyanka, who was earlier suffering from severe chronic illnesses in illegal custody.

After closely tracing Priyanka’s movement for a year and a six-day-long operation, she was rescued from the hands of her cruel owners. They kept her in illegal custody, where she had spent four years in captivity, to rent her out for processions and wedding ceremonies.

In an interview with IWB, Arinita Sandilya from Wildlife SOS talks about curing animals of trauma and how Priyanka is adjusting to a new healthy environment.

Wildlife SOS

(Co-founder Geeta Seshaman enjoying with the elephants)

Excerpts from the interview:

Mental health of rescued animals is as important as their physical health. How do you deal with it?

One of the most critical components of the rehabilitation programme for animals across Wildlife SOS centres is providing them with engaging enrichments to facilitate their psychological recovery. When in captivity, animals are forced to follow a strenuous, monotonous daily routine that goes against their natural behaviour, due to which many animals exhibit stereotypical behaviour such as head bobbing or swaying. So, enrichments become important because they enhance their mental and physical health by encouraging them to exhibit natural behaviours.

At WSOS Centres, we provide our animals with enrichments that can be as simple as switching enclosures, introducing new scents, or more physical enrichments such as honey logs, peanut-filled rolling drums, fire hosepipe braids for the bears; long walks in the open field, tyre feeders, pools for socialisation, cage feeders for the elephants.

As citizens, what are the ways in which we can prevent animal abuse?

There are many ways through which the common man can help to prevent animal abuse, like refusing to participate in animal exploitative experiences and activities, and supporting organisations that directly work towards wildlife conservation and protection. People should raise their voice against animal exploitation, and report acts of animal abuse to the concerned authorities. Most importantly, citizens should educate and sensitise themselves about conservation issues and understand why a thriving biodiversity matters.

What steps should India take to create a safer environment for elephants?

The biggest initiative taken by the government is the Project Elephant of 1992. It is comprehensive in its approach as it focuses both on the conservation of wild elephants as well as the welfare of captive elephants. Project Elephant has funds set for restoration of migratory routes of elephants, mitigation of human-elephant conflict, habitat preservation, and public education and awareness programmes.

Creating a safer environment for our elephants begins with viewing conservation more holistically. To keep humans tolerant of elephants, it is important to send across the message that the fate of our forests is tied with that of our elephants.

Elephants are keystone species and have, through their long-ranging, migratory and dietary habits, engineered our forests. Once they cease to exist, no other species can replace the ecological niche created, and the entire ecosystem could be altered in deeply concerning ways with invasive species.

The existence of many insect species that reside and feed on elephant dung would also become threatened. Moreover, in the epoch of Anthropocene, when we are facing devastating effects of climate change it is important to note that forested areas serve as important carbon sinks. Thus, the message that needs to be sent across is that when we protect our wild elephants, we protect our forests and resources.

Wildlife SOS

Founder & CEO Kartick Satyanarayan

How are the elephants adjusting to post-trauma treatment?

Each rescued elephant has a different personality and naturally, they tend to adjust to their new home differently. Most elephants tend to stay in a shell as they are initially apprehensive of their new surroundings. Having been habituated to a monotonous routine for the best part of their life, it is a big change for them to abandon it completely. Sometimes we wait till the elephant has successfully adjusted to their new home to remove the bell that the elephants come with so that it is not too much of a change all of a sudden for them.

Physically also it can be overwhelming for the elephant, getting used to a new healthy diet that their bodies are not used to. Our rescued elephants relearn to be elephants as we do not use negative reinforcement. They slowly realise that they have the freedom to refuse to respond to a cue.

You celebrated Priyanka’s (below) first year of freedom recently. Tell us what do you wish for her and how happy did she look that day?

As Priyanka’s hind legs twist inwards due to improper nutrition during her younger years, we only wish that her condition does not worsen and that we are able to provide her with the best care possible. We hope that she will continue to come out of her shell and discover new possibilities that her life of freedom presents to her.

Priyanka was for sure content with her cake as we could see her swaying her tail lightly and flipping her ears.

Wildlife SOS

Priyanka treats on a healthy cake, celebrating one year of her freedom.

Wildlife SOS

 

What activities does Priyanka enjoy doing the most at your centre?

Priyanka’s best discovery has been the pool inside her enclosure. She is a big water baby and spends hours submerged inside her pool or playing with rubber tyres. Some days when her keeper walks her down to the river, Priyanka invariably rushes in to take a dip, flatly refusing to come out until she’s ready.

What are the important changes in the legal system of India that can facilitate the fight against animal traffickers?

There are broadly two laws that provide protection to elephants in India-Wildlife Protection Act, 1972, and Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960. Other than these laws there are state-specific laws issued by the Chief Wildlife Warden of the concerned state and there are the Project Elephant Guidelines issued by the MoEFCC.

Again, the major hurdle comes down to the lax implementation of the law as there is no mechanism in place to carry out regular inspections and prosecute the offenders.

However, recently the Hon’ble Supreme Court of India passed an order by which it has directed the CWLWs of different states to conduct a census of captive elephants in India by the end of the year, and also keep a tab on any illegal ownership of the elephant. This is a welcome move because once the captive elephant population has been baselined, it will help the policymakers to assess the situation more critically and hopefully implement stricter laws.

Give an insight into the world of animal traffickers that you, as a rescuer, found out?

The driving force for successfully ending the 400-year old tradition of dancing bears was the extensive community rehabilitation program that Wildlife SOS undertook. As the Kalandar community was devoid of any other means of livelihood, they were left with no choice but to exploit the bears. It seemed as if they were stuck in a time capsule and left behind in the world.

Thus, the Kalandars themselves were put at the heart of conservation by granting them seed funds and assistance to start alternative livelihood, providing education to the children. It was a new chance at life for both the Kalandars and the sloth bears. It is thus important to look at the issue holistically and not pick villains beforehand.

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