Her first 46 years of life were spent in chains and at the mercy of an ‘ankush’ (bullhook). She knew of no other life and routine than the one decided by her human captors, first for tourist joyrides and then for begging.
In 2015, when she was brought to the rescue centre, Asha not just healed herself, but also spread joy, and became a beacon of hope for fellow rescued elephants, helping in their recovery.
At 53, Asha, the matronly elephant at the Wildlife SOS’ Elephant Conservation & Care Centre near Mathura, died a peaceful death even as she left the entire team at the Centre mourning.
Since her early life, Asha had known no other life than the routine of walking on roads built with stones at the Amer Fort in Jaipur to give joyrides to tourists. Her delicate feet not just climbed up the unforgiving and steep route, but also bore the brunt of the metallic howdah weighing 400 kg with seated tourists.
During one such treacherous ride, Asha fell down to suffered injury in her leg, leaving her right forelimb permanently deformed.
But, sadly for her, there was still no retirement in sight. She was illegally trafficked to Madhya Pradesh, where she was further mis-treated and used as a begging elephant.
After some good soul informed the Wildlife SOS about her condition in 2015, a team rescued Asha and brought her to the care centre.
“Her body was riddled with chronic wounds. Asha suffered from a critical toenail abscess and degenerative joint disorder for which she continued to receive treatment till her very last day,” said S. Ilayaraja, Deputy Director, Veterinary Services, Wildlife SOS.
A team of five veterinarians and elephant care staff was deployed for her care.
Asha, which means hope in English, began to heal, slowly but steadily. But the most surprising aspect was the manner in which she quickly took old and young rescued elephants under her tender care, becoming a beacon of hope for them.
Around the same time, another elephant, Suzy, who is blind, was rescued from a circus.
“The two immediately connected and she became Suzy’s eyes, guiding her at every step. Asha just would not leave Suzy, and literally kept by her side always,” said a volunteer from the care centre.
Not to mention, Asha also shared a trusting bond with her caregiver Babu Lal.
The centre has many other rescued elephants across age groups, including the five rescued and brought to the facility during the last 12 months.
Geeta Seshamani, Co-founder and Secretary, Wildlife SOS, said, “At Wildlife SOS, Asha discovered the joys of social bonding with other elephants. The story of Asha’s life is, in fact, not about what we were able to give her, but about what she gave us – unconditional love and hope in the face of misery.”
However, years of physical and mental abuse had its impact. As a result, even when Asha’s spirit soared free, her body could not withstand the ravages of time.
“The culmination of a degenerative joint disorder combined with senility gradually caught up with her. Even in her last breath, Asha did not leave Suzy’s side and she passed away on January 23 right beside her companion, and in the company of those she loved the most,” said a Wildlife SOS statement.
As per procedure, a post-mortem was carried out and there were several other formalities that had to be done before her death could be announced.
“Our team did everything to ensure that Asha received the best possible care. She will live on in our hearts and she will continue to inspire us to protect more elephants,” said Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-founder and CEO of Wildlife SOS.