A team of Indian military engineers is racing to rescue an old and critically ill elephant that was abandoned by its owner at the side of a road a month ago.
The elephant, named Moti, aged 35, was found on the verge of death in the Ramnagar district of Uttarakhand. Locals alerted volunteers from Mathura-based Wildlife SOS, a non-profit charity engaged in the rescue and rehabilitation of animals.
Moti is malnourished and unable to stand. Its footpads have worn off.
NGO workers initially tried to make the animal stand using a crane and excavators, only to find it had fractured hind legs. It was then that the charity called in the Indian Army.
A team of 38 “sappers”, engineers who usually clear minefields and build bridges, reached Moti in the foothills of Himalayas on Monday.
They are building a sling and belly panel structure to help the elephant stand, the NGO said.
Efforts to raise the animal have so far not worked, an officer said. Only when Moti is standing can veterinarians begin treatment.
Volunteers from the NGO said they were hoping for a miracle to save Moti, who also has kidney and heart problems.
“This is such a patriotic effort to help India’s heritage animal and an endangered species,” Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder and CEO of Wildlife SOS, told The National.
“We are also grateful to the Forest Department and the custodians of Moti for their co-operation and support.”
They used a similar structure to rescue another elephant, named Sidda, near Bengaluru in 2016 after it fell off a dam and broke its leg.
The Indian Army was again called in to save the animal.
India has a long history of keeping elephants in captivity.
There are more than 2,600 captive elephants in the country, as per the Ministry of Environment and Forests' Project Elephant journal.
Of these, 1,821 are owned privately and used for tourism, entertainment and religious purposes or temple processions, mainly in southern India.
The animals often live in abysmal conditions. They are chained, hardly get any exercise, fed poorly and subjected to noise and disturbance.
The Indian government prohibits the commercial trade of elephants but a loophole in its wildlife protection laws means that the animals continue to be kept in captivity.
The Wildlife Protection Act of 1972 makes an exception for live elephants that are “gifted” or “inherited”. The clause is often exploited by elephant owners in illegal trading.