A trip off the beaten track brought me to one of the best places to see wildlife at the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre (ECCC) and Agra Bear Rescue Facility (ABRF)
Photo: Chanchal, Bijli and Laxmi | Wildlife SOS
A blissful little animal kingdom which sloth bears and elephants call home, Wildlife SOS is an exuberant place to be! Upon hearing exalting reviews, I did a little research on my own and decided to visit the wildlife conservation centre on a weekend and indeed my decision could not have been better.
Entering a Small Haven for Elephants
A day in life with the Elephants
Maya and Phoolkali Greet me with Smile
A drive for about 20 minutes from Astha City (Wildlife SOS guest house) traversing tiny village houses and bustling NH 19 (Mathura-Agra road) brought me to a safe haven for the elephants. I was greeted by two WSOS staff from the guest house. Can’t deny the fact that, a feeling of thrill took hold of me as I approached the Elephant Care Conservation Centre. A feeling so strong I almost gasped! Such quiet surroundings with greenery everywhere, ‘it is indeed an ideal place for the elephants,’ I said to myself.
I am the new fruit ninja…haiya!
Here you go Bijli, a melon for you
My day at the centre started by getting introduced to the elephants (I could imagine them smile as I approached closer). They were rather friendly than shy, I gave a pat on one of the elephants’ trunk and offered them sugarcane – and that was a beginning of a new friendship . Time passed by in ECCC as I along with fellow volunteers from UK chopped bucketful of fruits to feed the 12 female elephants. I loved the fact how one of the elephants, Bijli grabbed piece by piece with her trunk as I continuously fed her with a bucket full of assorted fruits, while she was given a bath by other volunteers.
ahhh! Bijli get a relaxing bath
This continued for a while till the time she finished her bath. What I was eagerly waiting for was the walk with the elephants that had to begin at 4 in the evening. At the scheduled time, the gates opened, and there entered Mia and Rhea (two elephants rescued from the same circus). The sky had turned slightly pink and a gush of soothing wind gently touched my skin, it gave an overwhelming feeling to see them play out in the open, scratching their body on trees and lying down on the cool ground.
An Evening Stroll n the Open Field
Story of the Elephants
Here, I introduce Peanut, Suzy and Coconut
These majestic mammals looked playfully at me as I stepped closer. I was then introduced to Peanut, Suzy and Coconut (Coco in short), all three had been through great pain and suffering. A peanut lover, thus called by the same name, is an 8 year old elephant who also loves mud baths and watermelon; she is the youngest amongst all others. Peanut was rescued from a circus at the age of 6 and so was Coco, her best friend. Coconut at the age of 12 was brought in ECCC by WSOS and she acts like a mother to Peanut. She loves sugarcane and playing with the tire but sometimes you may see her sneaking treats from the keepers’ bag. A 67 year old Suzy, the first circus rescued elephant, spends her time with her two besties, Asha and Lakhi. She enjoys every minute soaking herself in the river and slurping watermelon juice. ECCC, currently shelters 21 elephants (12 females and 9 male elephants) each with heart-wrenching stories.
A day in life with the Sloth Bears
My second day, started with a warm cup of tea followed by a short 15 minute ride to Agra Bear Rescue Facility (ABRF). This ‘place of hope’ is located inside the Sur Sarovar Wildlife Sanctuary, and shelters around 224 sloth bears. My first impression visiting ABRF was overwhelming. How well-maintained the rescue centre was and such courteous staff!
Too excited or curious!
One of the WSOS teams offered me a tour around the different enclosures, after showing a short documentary that described the diifficult/unnatural conditions these bears were living in and how they were rescued. Now the bears in ABRF live amid lustrous greenery, take free and leisurely walks; keep busy by playing around the hammocks and other enrichments built by the staff and laze around by the pool.
As gush of wind from the Yamuna set me a back, a ferry across the river awaited to take me to the bear sanctuary extension, where more bears are sheltered in a 150 acre of land. In the premises, I got an urge to explore in depth about the bears, and where the organic food is grown for the consumption of staff and animals. It so happens, just a few minutes from the huge enclosure lays an open field with varied planted vegetables.
It is always sad to say goodbye
Story of the Sloth Bears
Hay there cutie!
Meet Mughli, the youngest of the lot. He was rescued from Sanjay Dubri Tiger Reserve of Madhya Pradesh. As I went close to his den, he slowly shook his head (like he was stretching) and quickly climbed the tree, how cute and curious he looked. Mughly was just ten-week old cub when he was first brought to ABRF, now growing confident and more accustomed to his surroundings; he too has a heart wrenching story. Click here to read Mughli’s story. All the sloth bears at the facility have either been rescued from the poachers or from the Kalanders who use bears for their way of income, a century-old tradition ‘dancing bears.’ Rani, the very first sloth bear to be rescued by WSOS in 2002 is a beauty. Over years of living under cruel circumstances, today, Rani has transformed into a strong and spirited bear. However, she is known for her hot temperament (towards newcomers). Rani’s best friend is Mangi and she loves playing with her other three furry companions Chotu, Bijli and Butterball.
Success Stories of Wildlife SOS
Working round the clock, the team WSOS has achieved and carried out several nerve-racking rescue operations. Not just for the sloth bears and elephants but also for a number of leopards, deer, turtles, hyenas and blue bulls. From the crying elephant, Raju to world’s unluckiest elephant, Mohan; a few mentions amongst the many are here in a form of a short summary. Being held under captive for over 50 years, Mohan finally can spend his retirement days in the protective care of WSOS. Thanks to the persistent and continuous efforts of Wildlife SOS of two years to win him freedom. Another nail-biting operation WSOS undertook was a mission of a leopard rescued from 60 feet deep well in a remote village in Maharashtra. A wooden platform prepared by the local villagers was lowered so the animal can cling to it before jumping into the metal box lowered to capture the leopard. The leopard was later released in the forest of Maharashtra. Severely wounded, left to die or living under worst circumstances, there are many such heart-breaking stories of the unfortunate wild animals that now live under the care of Wildlife SOS.
The role of WSOS for Elephants and Sloth Bears
Photo: Sloth Bears Cuddled up into one Giant Fur Ball | Wildlife SOS
One of the best places for wildlife conservation in India, Wildlife SOS is a dedicated NGO that has a wonderful team that focuses on the wellbeing of the animals. They make sure the elephants and sloth bears have a blissed retirement at the centre. Building natural enrichments and offering wild animals natural ambience is what the team focuses on.
Photo: Peanut Enjoying her time in the Pool | Wildlife SOS
For distressed elephants forced to live under unnatural and harsh conditions in Indian cities, an action had to be taken . This is why, Wildlife SOS in collaboration with the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department started Elephant Conservation and Care Centre in 2010. Ever since, many elephants have been brought from various places around India like Maharashtra, Rajasthan to name a few.
Photo: Bears Playing on their Hammock | Wildlife SOS
Sloth Bears on the other hand have been rescued from the Kalanders that made the bears dance for their income. Today, WSOS houses many bears and the Kalandars have been given employment at WSOS or by other means to enable them to earn. You may also find some traditional handicrafts made by the locals that are kept for sale at the gift shop.
Photo: Elephant Sanjay Taking a Nice Refreshing Bath | Wildlife SOS
The work Wildlife SOS stresses upon are the tribal rehabilitation programs that focus on how to conserve wildlife by giving conservation education about environment and animals. Wildlife rescue and rehabilitation of elephants is also looked upon, the WSOS team takes action to safeguard the abused mammals by bringing them from the streets to ECCC. Apart from that, WSOS runs a 24-hour animal rescue hotline around north India for rescuing wildlife in distress and resolving man-animal conflicts. They also take initiative to educate public by conducting awareness wildlife tours, in which they discuss poaching threats, illegal wildlife trade and also maintenance of natural habitat of animals.
Volunteering in Wildlife SOS
Photo: Sloth Bear Playing with Tyre Enrichment | Wildlife SOS
It is always soul satisfying experience to contribute something for the animals. In this case why not give some love to the animals by visiting Wildlife SOS for wildlife conservation volunteering. . From preparing meals for the elephants and bears to even feeding them. Besides, who can resist giving a bath to the elephants and walking with them, it is a feeling that can’t be described, only experienced. Here, the volunteers’ duties are cutting fruits, making enrichment treats and structures, building hammocks for the sloth bears and feeding or giving the elephants a bath. You can click here for better understanding.
If you are unable to volunteer, you can always make a donation for the support of wildlife conservation or sponsor any one of the endangered species found here like that of Indian Elephant. You can also visit the two centers anytime of the year and experience once in a lifetime opportunity of being very close to the wild.