Mathura, June 15 (IANS) Seventy-year-old Gajraj is finally free after being rescued by animal rights activists, and is being transferred to the lifetime care of Wildlife SOS at their Elephant Care and Conservation Center (ECCC) in Mathura.

Wildlife SOS rescued the elephant from Aundh in Satara district amidst heavy police protection with cooperation from the Forest Department.

The elephant, belonging to the Queen of Aundh, was used in temple processions for over 51 years.

With advancing age, the elephant was found to be suffering from several medical issues like foot abscess, partial blindness etc.

Gajraj performed his duties for over five decades as a temple elephant where local devotees saw him as an icon of worship, as he played an important role in festivities and temple processions.

His long journey as a temple elephant came to an abrupt end on Thursday, as he finally retired and was moved in an ambulance from Satara to Mathura for his long-term medical treatment and lifetime care.

A PETA campaign brought attention to Gajraj's plight.

A medical examination had revealed that Gajraj required medical attention for his toenail abscess, which could spread to the bone in addition to the hip abscesses, while his foot pads suffered severe degeneration. This made him a candidate for geriatric life time care at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Center.

The royal family of Aundh gave him a warm farewell. The local villagers, however, became very emotional and hostile.

Tension gripped the area and the Wildlife SOS team came under attack from a stone pelting mob. A large police force was deployed to ensure protection for the team, which was there on the Maharashtra Forest Department's request.

Eventually, Gajraj was placed inside the elephant ambulance that had travelled over 1,500 km from Mathura to Satara to transfer the 70-year-old safely.

Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder of Wildlife SOS, lauded the Forest Department and police for their support.

"The advancing age of this elephant means he needs a lot more medical care. We shall give him the best of care. We appreciate that the Queen of Aundh has trusted Wildlife SOS and handed over the elephant," he said.

Geeta Seshamani, another co-founder of Wildlife SOS, said the conservation and care centre provides a safe sanctuary to elephants requiring long-term medical care and rehabilitation.

"Gajraj can now live a retired life for the rest of his life," she added.

Senior veterinarian Yaduraj Khadpekar said, "Being chained for most of each day has had a detrimental effect on Gajraj's health. He is very thin with opacity in his right eye as well as nutritional deficiencies."

"He also has a serious toenail abscess in his right front foot and left hind foot, as well as severe wear and tear of his foot pads, which makes him prone to lameness and foot injuries due to soft tissue exposure," he added.

Gayatri Devi Pant Pratinidhi, the Queen of Aundh, expressed delight that Gajraj was going to the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation Center.

"I am confident that he is in safe hands," she said.

Deputy Conservator of Forests, Anil Ajankar, said that it took several days to convince the irate public not to prevent the elephant's shifting.

"I am relieved this has ended well and the elephant is safe," he added.

Wildlife SOS coordinator Wasim Akram said his team was in danger as the locals pelted stones at them.

"But police presence helped us move the elephant and our team to safety," he added.

--IANS

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