ELEPHANT NUMBER TWENTY FIVE
Her name is Moti, and she lives out in a small walled area among the fields on the outskirts of Amber. Her owner is Abdul Wahid, a wealthy Muslim who owns many elephants. Her mahout is Atique.
Ramswaroop stops the vehicle outside the unfinished brick wall. Moti is standing in a pile of rotten straw , dung and urine. Madhu takes the medicines and pump from the mobile clinic. The pump is in fact an instrument used by the farmers to spray their crops with insecticides but in this case it is used by Dr Madhu to pump at high pressure antiseptic.
Atique holds a thick stick, faded to white by many years of exposure. He presses this stick, which is pronged at the end, into Moti’s thigh while shouting commands at her. She is aligned against a higher part of the wall, upon which Dr Madhu and Ramswaroop stand. Moti is cringing. Her eyes are flicking with fear. She is twisting her trunk and holding it in her mouth. She gives a short terrified rumble, and lies down, so that her back is level to the high wall upon which Dr Madhu and Ramswaroop stand. Dr. Naveen stands beside me, watching.
On Moti’s back is a wound which Dr. Madhu informs me is a very old wound which he has been treating for some time, caused by friction from a poorly designed howdah. Dr Madhu pulls from it a pussy rag covered in yellow congealed exudate. Moti dilates her eyes and presses her head against the wall, rubbing her forehead backwards and forwards as the pressure hose is applied to the wound in order to flush it clean.
Now and then she tries to stand up, to avoid this great pain, but each time her mahout shouts at her and presses the stick into her shoulder, so she remains in a lying position.
After the cleaning is over, I climb up on the wall beside Dr Madhu to look at the wound. I see that it sits on her middle back, over the backbone, and is about a foot in diameter. The skin around the edge of the wound is thickened and scarred, like a pale grey uneven wall which surrounds a sea of exposed pink, muscular flesh. There is no skin to cover this flesh. I can see the striated bundles of muscle. Dr Madhu is smoothing loroxene over this vast mass of unprotected flesh.
‘Actually this elephant shouldn’t be working at all,’ Naveen says. ‘This wound won’t heal. The edges of the skin are necrosed, which means dead. If there is subcutaneous facia, then this allows the possibility for fresh covering to grow, but since this wound is so old, more than 40 months old, it cannot heal without that subcutaneous facia which you see in a freshly exposed flesh wound.’
‘It seems it would take some years at least to heal,’ Madhu says.
‘Every time I ask this owner not to use this elephant,’ Dr Madhu says. ‘Every time he puts on the saddle the wound is rubbed raw again. This wound will never heal so long as this elephant is used for carrying tourists and for weddings and festivals and other events.’
‘When was he last used?’
‘She was used yesterday. Madam, I have spoken to this owner so many times.’
‘This is an unacceptable situation,’ Naveen says. ‘This wound will never heal because there is no skin covering it, and this elephant should never carry a saddle again,’
‘Even after many, many months, if the wound is healed, still this animal should not be worked,’ Madhu says.
After feeding Moti a bunch of rangka (Lucerne) for which she stretches out her trunk, wraps the bunch of green in the tip, and then places it in her mouth happily, biting it in half, so that half can be chewed with relish, and the other half later retrieved from the ground, we leave the elephant, standing in the full sun, with her exposed mass of raw red flesh surrounded by the wall of thick rippled skin,
There are some other elephants to treat, along the road, and then we go to the fort to see the tourists mounting the elephants from a platform. There is a semi-filled lake of murky green water in which twenty or thirty elephants are standing, chasing each other, bellowing, or lying with half closed eyes being scrubbed by diligent mahouts vigorously rubbing the skin with porous stone.
Madhu shows me the corrugated iron sheeting which has been placed to shade the elephants where they wait at the base of the fort. ‘This has finally been achieved after many requests,’ he says proudly.
And now also there are two offices allocated to Help in Suffering, so that the condition of the elephants can be monitored on site. Moona sits at the desk, and points to a complaint box which is placed in a visible position outside the window of the office.
There is a sign also which says that if any tourist sees any cruelty inflicted on any elephant it should be reported. These days, the mahouts are using a light bamboo stick in place of the heavy iron ankush with its pointed, curved end.
‘Things have certainly changed for the better,’ Naveen says.
But none of us can stop thinking about the elephant which should not be worked
‘Why don’t we go to see the Forest Department and ask them not to allow this elephant to work?’ I ask Madhu.
‘We could do this. I could ring the Forest Department vet, Dr Mohan Chaudery, and we could report this case to him.’
‘Also, we could speak to the owner, and ask him not to use this elephant.’
‘Madam, I have called him so many times and he does not listen. We have to go and knock on their door and they consider it a favour that they allow us to treat their elephants. When Parvarti came and wrote her report, she told me the elephant owners offered her money not to write bad things about them.’
So, we go to the Forest Department, and the Assistant Director says, ‘We don’t have any proof that this elephant is working.’ His office is in a building inside the zoo, and we sit in the room, behind his desk, looking at a photo of a tiger on the wall.
I show him the video which I have filmed which shows the number ‘25’ on the howdah. So then the Assistant Director thinks a bit more, and he says, ‘I cannot seize an elephant, a bull, yes, but not an elephant. The mahout is the only man who can control the elephant.’
‘Sir, the Forest Department has seized all the lions and tigers from the circuses and is holding them,’ I point out.
‘I cannot seize an elephant,’ he repeats.
We thank him, and leave. We walk past families staring into the orangutan cage, and deer, overpopulated in a muddy run.
Later, the Minister for Tourism, and others within the Tourism Department issue an order the Moti must not work. We do not know how long this situation will endure. The owner of Moti borrowed money to buy her. He wants to earn money from her so he can feed her and repay the loan.