Devotees at a temple in Ahmednagar, Maharashtra awaited for their chance to see Champa the elephant up close. They would touch her trunk with devotion, lean their heads against it, offer food or money to Champa. For them, Champa represented God, but her life was anything but divine.
Used as a ‘begging elephant,’ Champa was forced to perform at weddings and religious ceremonies in Ahmednagar in addition to her ‘shift’ at the temple. The mahout in-charge of her care neither provided her with food or water, and she could be usually seen chained to a tree under the scorching sun.
“We found Champa in an appalling state.
She is severely arthritic with advanced cataracts in both eyes, a deformed spine, and has lesions and abscesses all over her body as a result of years of mistreatment.
When we first saw her, we learned that no one had bothered to bathe her for months and that she had been chained to stand under the hot sun with no access to fresh food, water or even a resting mound for 60 days straight,” tells Tina Mohandas to The Better India (TBI).
Tina is part of the team of volunteers from ResQ—a not-for-profit organization—that works for animal welfare and rehabilitation. If not for ResQ and people concerned for her well-being, Champa would have suffered in the same miserable conditions till her death.
The people who frequently visited Champa were witness to her horrible living conditions. When they saw no improvement in the treatment meted out to her, despite their protests, they called ResQ for help. Neha Panchamiya, the NGO’s founder, also received videos of Champa’s abuse and she immediately swung into action.
“Besides sending help to treat Champa, Neha got in touch with Forest Department officials and informed them of her condition.
They contacted the caretaker who readily gave up Champa’s custody as he was not able to take care of her. The Forest Department has now entrusted ResQ with her rest, rehabilitation and medical care,” Tina informs.
The team of volunteers travelled from Pune to Ahmednagar and stayed there for three weeks, feeding Champa and ensuring she is taken care of properly. It was important for her to trust the ResQ volunteers till they could rehabilitate her.
Though Champa is a beautiful name, it still carried the taint of slavery and cruelty for the aging elephant. ResQ has renamed Champa to Lily, short for Lilian. They wanted a name to symbolise the change in her life for the better—Lilly, which means purity and rebirth.
One Sunday, once she had recovered a bit, the team shifted Lily to Pune to ResQ’s Transit Wildlife Unit.
“Lilly is currently receiving joint supplements, anti-inflammatory medication, and laser therapy to treat her severe arthritis and pain.
She has been put on a healthy diet (more greens and vegetables, and fewer fruits to keep her weight and sugars under control) and has access to clean drinking water 24 hours a day. She also gets these special ‘ragi mudde’ balls which is a nutrient-dense cooked meal, twice a day. She receives daily baths, oil massages, and scrubs to help keep her cool and clean,” shares Tina with TBI.
Years of brutal beatings and months of standing continuously without rest has restricted Lilly’s ability to lie down properly. “Her legs no longer have the strength to bear her weight, and Lilly is petrified of being unable to stand back up,” Tina explains.
Therefore, ResQ team uses cranes to help her lie down and get back up. Although the plan is to shift Lilly to an elephant sanctuary once she is fit and ready, the caretakers feel it would take weeks for the shift.
The current medical and physical condition of Lilly is dire, and the team says that they are struggling to keep up with the expenses. Widespread demand for elephant entertainment had led to many elephants being held captive and terrible conditions. NGOs like ResQ are doing their bit to provide a safe house for these gentle giants.
If you too wish to help ResQ in this mission, please click on the link here.
Update: We recently received an unfortunate news about Lilly. She passed away on March 12th. “She tried sitting down on the day before, but got stuck in the middle as her hind legs wouldn’t bend to support her because of her chronic arthritis. As we have done in the past with her, we used cranes to help her lie down on her side for a brief rest. Normally, even while lying down Lilly would continue eating, but that morning she completely stopped eating, even her favourite fruits. She passed away in her sleep a few hours later,” said the ResQ officials.
(Edited by Saiqua Sultan)
Feature image courtesy: Tina Mohandas/ ResQ.