Wildlife SOS Says Goodbye To Their Beloved Elephant King “Gajraj” Who Was Rescued After Working For Over 50 Years At A Temple In India

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It was a warm summer day in 2017 and an atmosphere of excitement lingered in the air at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation & Care Center (ECCC) as their team prepared for the arrival of ‘Gajraj,’ which means the “King of Elephants.”

The hydraulic ramp of the Elephant Ambulance gently opened and the team caught a glimpse of the majestic occupant. Gajraj had arrived! The majestic elephant gently put out his trunk to tentatively feel the ground before he gingerly stepped forth onto the ground as the team welcomed him. He carried an aura of peace and tranquility as he walked towards his new enclosure and pool that was prepared for his arrival.

For over 50 years, Gajraj performed his duties as a temple elephant in Aundh located in Satara, Maharashtra. The local devotees saw him as an icon of worship as he played an important role in festivities and temple processions. However, with advancing age, Gajraj was found to be suffering from several medical issues like foot and hip abscesses, arthritic joints, and the years were finally catching up with him.

When the veterinarians from Wildlife SOS medically examined Gajraj, they observed that this old pachyderm was suffering from severe degradation of his footpads, and toe-nail abscesses in his front and hind legs.

An elephant carries its entire body weight on just their four soft footpads, so it was essential to get him urgent medical treatment for his feet. When Gajraj’s former owner, Queen Gayatri Devi Pant Pratinidhi of Aundh was given a full diagnosis of his condition, she kindly consented to handing him to Wildlife SOS for medical treatment as she wanted him to have the best of care that was possible.

Thus, began Gajraj’s journey to the ECCC where at the grand old age of 70, he could get specialized medical treatment and geriatric care that his body needed. At Wildlife SOS, Gajraj discovered the joys of social bonding with the other elephants, as well as companionship. He was like a grandfather to the other elephants and was very tolerant. The younger bull elephants who would accompany him on his walks would follow his lead.

His keeper, ‘Prahlad,’ doted on Gajraj, treating him with affection, never leaving his side, caring for him the way he cared for his father. The elephant care team and Prahlad would accompany Gajraj to the Elephant Hospital, often comforting him during medical procedures. In short, they left no stone unturned to make his life comfortable, and to help him heal at his own pace.

One of the most notable things about this massive nearly four ton tusker, was his docile and gentle nature. More than his physical strength, it was his resilience, his mental strength, and his calm fighting spirit that pulled the hardest on our heartstrings. He shared a very close and trusted bond with his keeper Prahlad, who was equally devoted to him. Prahlad always kept a watchful eye on what he was eating and ensured that he always had a constant supply of Gajraj’s favorite treats in his enclosure. Prahlad would often say that Gajraj had witnessed much more of the world than him and he held him in utmost respect and admiration, the way a young man would care for his aging father.

Recently, Gajraj was diagnosed with a severe stomach infection that resulted in colic and stomach bloat. The Wildlife SOS veterinarians carried out “enema” procedures to provide him relief. Their crane and medical hoist helped him up each time he found it difficult to stand up due to dehydration. He was receiving fluid therapy to help his condition while their expert team of veterinarians and care givers were constantly by his side, ensuring his comfort.

Despite the team’s best and most sincere efforts, Gajra’s condition gravely deteriorated. His chronic condition and advancing age caused him to collapse on his mud bed. He then slept peacefully as the team kept watch over him monitoring his vitals. He silently passed away in his sleep in the early hours of the morning. The team was at his side the whole night and made sure he was comfortable. At the moment of his passing, Gajraj was surrounded by the people who loved and cared for him. His last moments were peaceful and filled with love.

For Gajraj’s keeper and for everyone at Wildlife SOS, this is heartbreaking and an unimaginable loss. Gajraj loved dust baths which was his favorite activity. Gajraj’s departure to greener pastures leaves a void inside them all, but he lives on in their hearts.

“I feel like I’ve lost my father again…” said an inconsolable Prahlad as he remembers Gajraj, “I was with him through each and every treatment that he underwent from his first, to his last. Gajraj was calm and cooperative, at every moment. What I will miss the most about him is the time when he played with water. He would enjoy the water so much, that he would fill his trunk over and over again and playfully try to grab the hose from me. Bathing Gajraj meant that I would be completely drenched at the end of it. Each morning, I would wake up and rush to check on him, to clean his enclosure and he would rumble out to me. I will miss him very much, but I am at peace knowing that he passed away peacefully and is in a better place.

“As Gajraj crosses the rainbow bridge, leaving us with a certain heaviness in our hearts, we applaud his strength and perseverance to the very end. We find solace in knowing that he is finally relieved of his pain and has found peace. Our mighty Gajraj will live on in our hearts and memories. His teachings make us determined to help other elephants like Gajraj,” concluded Prahlad.

“Saying goodbye to the elephant king ‘Gajraj’ was tearful for all of us at Wildlife SOS. He lives on in our hearts and continues to inspire us every single day to protect elephants,” Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-Founder and CEO of Wildlife SOS, said in a statement sent to WAN.

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