For most part of her life, fifty-year-old Asha carried tourists on her back at Amer Fort in Jaipur. She slogged for several hours a day, walking up and down steep terrain and enduring extreme weather in the desert state. Today, she ambles in her enclosure at the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre (ECCC) in Uttar Pradesh’s Mathura district. During summers, she often slides in the pool within her compound to cool herself. She is well fed, cleaned regularly and has the company of Suzy, twenty years her senior. An untreated fracture in her left foreleg long ago has made it stiff; she drags it mostly. The other leg is swollen and is yellow from the turmeric treatment it received from the vet.
The ECCC was established by Wildlife SOS in Mathura in 2010, but the hospital—supposedly the first one in the country—opened last November. Founded in 1995, Wildlife SOS is a non-profit organisation working for the protection and rehabilitation of wildlife, conservation of their habitat, and rehabilitation of people from erstwhile poacher communities. The centre thrives solely on donations and CSR funds and has a daily operational cost of Rs 1 lakh—the elephants’ diet takes the lion’s share of the expenses. The centre was set up in collaboration with the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department, which has given them the requisite permissions to carry out the care of the elephants. Wildlife SOS also runs a bear facility, ten kilometres from the ECCC, for rescued sloth bears.