After 40 years, Rhea rescued from Tamil Nadu circus

New Delhi, April 16 (IANS) After four decades of entertaining in a Tamil Nadu circus, Rhea, a 53-year-old Asian elephant, is finally set to join her two pachyderm ‘colleagues’ at a Mathura rescue centre – thanks to the efforts of a wildlife NGO.

Wildlife philanthropist – Wildlife SOS, a Delhi based NGO at Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, rescued Rhea on Saturday.

About 59 elephants are still performing in circuses across India. Nine recently rescued circus elephants were found to be in ghastly condition, the NGO said.

Rhea, who according to her rescuers needs immediate medical attention, has embarked on a 2,400 km journey in a special ambulance to meet her former circus colleagues ‘Sita’ and ‘Mia’, at the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, Mathura, in Uttar Pradesh.

“Rhea has suffered greatly, and has multiple scars and abscesses from the use of bull-hooks or ‘ankush’, and is in desperate need of medical attention. She has severely cracked toenails and swollen foot-pads that make it extremely painful and difficult for her to walk, resulting in an awkward limping gait,” said Arun A. Sha, veterinary director of Wildlife SOS after carrying out a medical examination of ‘Rhea’.

As per a 2011 survey, there are more than 3,500 elephants in captivity in India, employed mostly for different purposes like safari, timber camps, temples, circuses and others.

“Rhea was beaten and starved into submission to ‘break her spirit’ and force her to perform uncomfortable, painful tricks for the amusement of a circus audience. Rhea’s only solace was the companionship of two female elephants, Mia and Sita, who worked alongside her in the circus, sharing in her suffering.”

Mia and Sita were rescued in November 2015, from the same circus.

“Unfortunately, at the time, the legal paperwork to transport Rhea had not yet come through, and she could not be rescued along with her two companions, Mia and Sita,” Suvidha Bhatnagar from Wildlife SOS told IANS.

“Elephants are highly intelligent, social and form extremely strong familial bonds with one another, both in the wild or in captivity. Being separated from the herd is traumatic for them. Thus it makes me very happy that we are able to reunite Rhea with her family and her herd, Mia and Sita,” said Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder, Wildlife SOS.

The NGO has nine centres throughout the country and has so far rescued 21 elephants from captivity which they rehabilitated at two different centres in UP and Haryana. Rhea is the 22nd such elephant rescued from captivity.

“We are working to rescue all such elephants but with preference to the ones in poor medical condition. However, it takes a really long time to get the official paperwork done, which is the biggest hurdle. In all cases, those rescued are very scared and have scars and medical conditions. We also request their controller or ‘mahout’ to stay with the elephant for sometime, because they understand its behaviour,” an animal rescuer told IANS.

According to experts, the average life of these elephants is 60 to 65 years, while those in the wild live over 75 years.

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