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Home / Mumbai News / Gajraj, royal family’s slave elephant for 51 years, rescued in Maharashtra

Gajraj, royal family’s slave elephant for 51 years, rescued in Maharashtra

Mumbai city news: Gajraj was brought to the royal family of Aundh, Satara, at the age of 12 from the wild in 1965.

mumbai Updated: Jul 04, 2017 01:19 IST
Badri Chatterjee
Badri Chatterjee
Hindustan Times
Gajraj entering the Wildlife SOS elephant ambulance.
Gajraj entering the Wildlife SOS elephant ambulance.(HT Photo)

After five decades as a slave as a temple elephant with a royal family in Maharashtra, a 70-year-old male elephant, Gajraj, was rescued by the state forest department and NGOs on Wednesday. He will be sent to an elephant rehabilitation centre in Mathura. Gajraj reached Madhya Pradesh on Thursday, and will reach Mathura on Saturday.

Gajraj was brought to the royal family of Aundh, Satara, at the age of 12 from the wild in 1965, as a gift to the queen at her wedding. He was made to travel 800-kilometres from Ujjain, Madhya Pradesh, to Satara, Maharashtra, which took almost a-month-and-a-half.

The rescue operation on Wednesday, led by NGO Wildlife SOS, was marred by locals from the village as they pelted stones at the rescue team since the elephant was an icon of worship, and was made to perform duties at the temple and during various festivals. “Our entire team was in a lot of danger as we were attacked by stones, but police presence helped us move the elephant and our team to safety,” said Wasim Akram, Wildlife SOS coordinator.

According to the elephant’s current medical examination, Gajraj developed partial blindness and a toenail abscess which could spread to the bone. He also has abscesses in the hip and his foot pads suffered severe degeneration. “Being chained for most of his life has had a detrimental effect on Gajraj’s health. He has lost weight and has nutritional deficiencies,” said Dr Yaduraj Khadpekar, senior veterinarian, Wildlife SOS.

Read: After 57 years in captivity, 60-yr-old elephant succumbs to multiple organ failure

The royal family of Aundh did not protest against the entire rescue operation and bid the elephant farewell. “I am happy that the elephant is going to the rescue centre and I am confident that he is in safe hands,” said Gayatri Devi Pant Pratinidhi, Queen of Aundh.

However, the local villagers who had gathered in large numbers, did not want the elephant to leave. Large police force was deployed to ensure protection for the rescue team. “It took several days to convince the public to not hinder the elephant’s shifting process,” said Anil Anjarkar, deputy conservator of forest, Satara range. “I’m relieved that the rescue has been completed and the elephant is safe.”

In April this year, the state government appointed veterinarians said that the elephant was suffering from weakness and untreated prolonged abscesses on his hindquarters and elbows, as well as other painful foot conditions, and that his custodian had failed to maintain basic health-care records.

Read: In Assam’s forests, human-elephant conflict has no winners

After People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) found Gajraj chained near popular tourist spots like the Shri Bhavani Museum and Yamai Devi temple in Aundh, Satara, a global #FreeGajraj campaign was started a couple of years ago that finally paved way to his rescue. He was moved 1,500 kilometres away to the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre (ECCC) in Mathura – a collaborative project of Wildlife SOS and the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department – using an ambulance.

“After half a century of suffering, this old ailing elephant is now on his way to safety,” said Dr Manilal Valliyate, PETA Director of Veterinary Affairs. “Although the Indian government declared elephants our national heritage animals, Gajraj has known only misery and neglect for decades. He will be able to roam, bathe in ponds, and be in the company of other elephants now.”

Why you should care

Elephants survive up to 60 to 65 years in the wild and 70 to 75 years in sanctuaries and other such wildlife centres. Elephants in captivity are denied the ability to roam vast distances and often suffer from foot problems and arthritis because of long periods spent standing on hard surfaces. They can develop neurotic and self-harming forms of behaviour, and many die prematurely.

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