First hospital for elephants opens in India

NGO-run facility near New Delhi offers digital X-ray, hydrotherapy and dental wing

A handler bathes Coconut, a female elephant, at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Centre  in the northern town of Mathura, India. Photograph:  Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

A handler bathes Coconut, a female elephant, at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Centre in the northern town of Mathura, India. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

 

India’s first elephant hospital has opened to care for the animals that constitute an important part of the country’s folklore and culture, but whose numbers are steadily decreasing due to maltreatment and a shrinking habitat.

The Wildlife SOS Elephant Hospital at Mathura, 160km southeast of New Delhi, offers ill elephants wireless digital X-ray and thermal imaging services, ultrasonography and hydrotherapy as a cure for arthritis.

Spread over 1,100sq m and built entirely from private donations, the facility is also equipped with a dental wing, a hoist to lift the animals needing special care and a quarantine section to house sick and geriatric elephants.

“By building this hospital we are highlighting the fact that elephants need welfare measures as much as any other animal,” said Geeta Seshamani of Wildlife SOS the non-governmental organisation (NGO) responsible for establishing the hospital.

A handler feeds an elephant at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Hospital. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters
A handler feeds an elephant at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Hospital. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters
Vets treat a wound of Asha, a female elephant, at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Hospital. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters
Vets treat a wound of Asha, a female elephant, at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Hospital. Photograph: Anushree Fadnavis/Reuters

It will also instruct conservationists in humane elephant management and basic veterinary procedures, she added.

India is home to some 60 per cent of all Asian elephants, which are widely revered as a religious symbol by India’s majority Hindu community.

Ganesha

The elephant-headed Ganesha is one of Hinduism’s best known and most worshipped deities whose benign and smiling image is found in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia.

Ganesha is worshipped for being the remover of obstacles and is considered by many Hindus to be the patron of the arts and sciences. He is honoured at the start of several rites and ceremonies and possessing a Ganesha image is believed to bring good luck to its owner.

Elephants are a prestige symbol for temples across southern India, with the animals taken out in processions during special festivals. Trained elephants are also employed in logging operations in forests in northern, eastern and southern India.

But scores of elephants die each year from ill treatment by untrained mahouts, in train accidents or due to electrocution. Hundreds of others are kept in captivity, with metal hooks and other instruments used to prod them into subordination.

According to federal government data, elephant numbers fell from 30,1711 in 2012 to 27,312 in 2017, and conservationists warn that if adequate measures are not enforced these numbers will further decrease.

The elephant hospital is located near India’s largest bear sanctuary, which was founded by the same NGO more than a decade ago. It houses some 200 maltreated and traumatised bears, complete with a sophisticated dental wing.