Laxmi: The world's most lovable elephant
Laxmi just celebrated her fourth anniversary with Wildlife SOS. She is one of our gentlest and most charismatic elephants. We'd like for you two to get acquainted here!
Laxmi was 18 years old when we first heard about her. She worked outside a temple in the hot Maharashtra sun all day, begging for money. At the end of a long shift standing on concrete at the temple gates, Laxmi and her companion elephant would slowly make their way home along the bustling streets of Mulund, their footpads burning on the hot tar roads. People along the way would give them whatever leftover fast-food they had — Laxmi’s mahout (or trainer) later told us that she ate nearly 200 vadapao (an oily potato fritter in a buttered bun) every day. Because she wasn’t allowed much exercise beyond her walks home, the incredibly unhealthy food took a predictably devastating toll on her health, and Laxmi became so obese that she could barely stand. The weight on her limbs, coupled with the hours she spent standing on concrete and walking paved roads, all but destroyed her footpads. Despite her young age, Laxmi had painful joints and was also showing signs of early arthritis.
Then one day, Laxmi’s companion elephant collapsed, her feeble limbs and aching feet no longer able to support her weight. As Laxmi looked on mournfully — barely able to walk herself — veterinarians struggled to revive her collapsed friend, to no avail. Her death set off a series of legal battles against Laxmi’s owner that emphasized his apathy and neglect, along with the abusive working conditions. It was argued that without our intervention, Laxmi’s health issues could have potentially fatal consequences. We were determined to save her from the sad fate that befell her friend!
We prepared for the journey to move Laxmi to the Elephant Conservation and Care Center in Mathura. But, struggling to stand — let alone walk — there was no way she could even get up the ramp into the rescue truck. We brought in a crane. Along the way, we discovered the horrific extent of her condition: extreme lethargy and weakness had resulted from her obesity, and her feet, joints, footpads, and nails were in a shocking state. The pockets of fat that had accumulated around her eyes made it nearly impossible for her to even open them! But we also discovered Laxmi’s spirit and her delightfully unique and playful character. Convinced that she could do a better job of driving the truck than us, this chubby elephant constantly maneuvered her trunk into the driver’s cabin and try to grab the steering wheel, forcing us to keep the windows rolled up the entire journey!
The first time we weighed her at the center, we were horrified to find the scale tipping at nearly 5,000 kilos (about 11,000 pounds) — more than even our much-taller bull elephants! We put her on a diet of fresh green fodder with a variety of vegetables; she was thoroughly confused by it, as if she’d never before seen food that wasn’t fried, greasy, or dripping with oil! The vets prescribed supplements and vitamins to address her arthritis and other obesity-related joint and bone disorders. Laxmi’s current exercise regime includes two walks every day, and although initially reluctant to move more than a few steps, she has slowly and steadily been coaxed on much longer walks (thanks in large part to the company of her two best friends, Chanchal and Bijli).
Over the last few years, Laxmi’s weight has steadily decreased, and the abscesses on her feet have healed over. Not only can she walk these days, she can even play in her pool (though, like all of us, she still prefers lazing around in it)! She’s become much more comfortable in our care and has let her guard down completely — allowing us to get better acquainted with one of the most endearing and delightful elephant personalities we have encountered. Laxmi is, unsurprisingly, a complete foodie (but these days her choices are healthier), and she loves getting baths, particularly from young volunteers. She is exceptionally friendly with all the other elephants — but especially the bulls: Laxmi squeaks with excitement whenever she so much as smells one of them while out walking!
Even though the exercise and healthy food have been paying off — she’s lost nearly 2,000 pounds since arriving here — Laxmi's still got a way to go. We’re trying to get her to go on longer walks (even though she’s always inclined to stop at the stream and wallow in the mud or lazily graze on grass rather than keep walking). And our young, spritely pachyderm throws little tantrums when her trainers try to coax her onward, stubbornly refusing to move unless she sees some sort of incentive (i.e., treats).
We’re working within Laxmi's comfort zone and abilities to keep her on the path to recovery. We’re designing new enrichments to help her get a little exercise in pursuit of food, as well as introducing new toys (like a sprinkler system!) for her. But make no mistake: Laxmi is a constant source of joy for all of us, and a favorite among all our volunteers, visitors, and staff — with a network of loving and supportive friends all over the world who constantly check up on her.
So on this fourth anniversary of her rescue, we at Wildlife SOS want to send our most heartfelt thanks to all of Laxmi’s sponsors, supporters — and her many, many friends and fans — for continuing to stand by her through all her challenges and triumphs. Here’s to many more years of what has been a mammoth adventure with our beloved plus-sized pachyderm!