Lakhi the elephant had suffered through years of slavery, tortured almost to the edge of her sanity. It was, needless to say, a truly awful way for an animal to be forced to live. But today was the day someone finally removed her chains forever.
The breaker of her chain belonged to Wildlife SOS, which is an Indian-based organization that was founded in 1995. This small but dedicated team works to conserve the country’s habitats and protect its severely threatened animals. They also help create new ways for poaching and hunting communities to live sustainable lifestyles without hurting endangered wildlife.
In fact, Wildlife SOS has had a big impact on animal rights and even contributed to abolishing the practice of India’s performing bears. They are active rescuers of abused animals and have branches in both the United Kingdom and the United States.
Fortunately for Lakhi, Wildlife SOS took a special interest in her and two other elephants. Sadly, the trio were found languishing under the keep of a cruel man called Ramesh Lekhraj Pandey. This man had abused all three of the gentle giants and left them broken by his torments.
In fact, the elephants were being used to beg for the benefit of their owner on Pune’s city streets. Wildlife SOS fought to free the elephants from their literal chains – and Pandey’s non-stop aggression – but the legal battle was long. Tragically, it was too long for all of the creatures except Lakhi.
“For more than seven years, we had been trying to rescue [Lakhi], and two other elephants owned by one Ramesh Lekhraj Pandey,” said activist Manoj Oswal of the People for Animals. “In the past two years, the other two passed away,” Oswal, who is also part of India’s Animal Welfare Board, added.
However, Lakhi’s rescue finally came in 2015. According to Oswal, the evidence that finally won Lakhi’s case resulted from Pandey trying to use the elephant as a movie star. Indeed, putting the aging, infirm elephant to work in a film shoot in the Raigad district in Karjat was a public display of cruelty. After all, Lahki was totally blind.
“We rushed to the spot and also lodged a complaint with the Raigad range forest officer as elephants are protected wildlife species. This crucial evidence of a blind elephant being made to work in a film shoot was taken cognizance of by the Pune-based judicial magistrate court first class,” Oswal told the Times of India.
The court deemed that the elephant should be put in better care. “The court has taken cognizance of the extreme cruelty meted out to Lakhi and her poor medical condition caused by years of torture and pain,” Tanvi Kulkarni, chairperson of People For Animals, told the Times of India. Lakhi was sent to the Protecterra Ecological Foundation in Pune where veterinarians from the RESQ Charitable Trust could tend to her injuries.
The poor pachyderm’s feet were in a terrible condition. That’s because throughout her nightmarish life, her ankles had been shackled with spiked chains. Her footpads and toenails, meanwhile, were riddled with chronic and rotting wounds from where she was forced to walk India’s scorching hot tar roads without rest.
The left side of Lakhi’s head further showed clear swelling caused by violent trauma from decades of beating. Shockingly, Wildlife SOS wrote on their Facebook page that the most likely cause of the sight loss was the use of spiked elephant-controlling sticks called bullhooks or elephant goads.
So, for an estimated sixty years, Lakhi had been subjected to body-wide torture and suffering. Before rescue, therefore, she was close to death from dehydration and malnutrition, as she been denied the diet that a healthy elephant needs to survive.
Naturally, Lakhi’s dehydration was treated first, and she was fed fruits, vegetables and more than 400 pounds of sugarcane a day to help her recover. She was also given a daily medicated foot bath to help with her damaged pads and toes. “A pedicure for a beautiful girl no matter what size,” her RESQ Charitable Trust carers wrote on Facebook.
After her wounds were dressed and she was fit for travel, then, Lakhi was ready for her more than 800-mile journey to the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Center in Mathura. Her new forever home was waiting patiently to give her all the love and care it could.
“Lakhi will soon be on her way, traveling by road to join the Herd of Hope,” Wildlife SOS wrote on their Facebook page in February 2015. “It’s a long journey to get there, but it’s nothing compared to the hardships she has already faced.”
The elephant convoy was well-stocked with plenty of food for Lakhi, and they made regular stops to make sure she was travel-fit. The traveling troop even discovered her clever (and mischievous) side when she caught the scent of bananas in her dozing caretaker’s pocket and helped herself!
A year later, Lakhi had traveled the road to recovery excellently, and the senior elephant enjoys her twilight years away from her old abusive life. She has also found a fondness for water and happily spends hours playing in the pool with her new friends.
What’s more, she no longer has to be accompanied by a human carer for her walks; that job has been taken by her new elephant family. There’s other good news too – U.K. ophthalmologic experts are currently looking into ways to restore the sight in at least one of her damaged eyes.
“I am happy to see that she is finally getting justice and she will live in the company of other elephants in a completely natural environment,” Kulkarni said. We couldn’t agree more.
It may have taken 60 years for Lakhi to witness human kindness, but now she is in better health and has all the bananas she could ever want. Furthermore, animal activists are working with Indian state forest officials to ban the use of other elephants cruelly forced to work for private owners.