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Iconic Bollywood Actor Amitabh Bachchan Praised for Saving the Life of an Asian Elephant Near Mumbai

The CEO and staff of more than 200 employees, including veterinarians, wildlife biologists and animal care takers working at several rescue facilities operated by Wildlife SOS, the largest animal rescue and conservation organization in South Asia, have praised acclaimed Bollywood actor Mr. Amitabh Bachchan for bringing worldwide attention to the plight of Bijlee the elephant....

Amitabh Bachchan (Photo by Studio Harcourt Paris)
Amitabh Bachchan (Photo by Studio Harcourt Paris)

The CEO and staff of more than 200 employees, including veterinarians, wildlife biologists and animal care takers working at several rescue facilities operated by Wildlife SOS, the largest animal rescue and conservation organization in South Asia, have praised acclaimed Bollywood actor Mr. Amitabh Bachchan for bringing worldwide attention to the plight of Bijlee the elephant.

Thanks to Mr. Bachchan’s public appeal to animal welfarists across India last week, Bijlee is now recovering from the physical and psychological trauma associated with her collapse last Tuesday. The Indian NGO Animals Matter to Me was the first group on the scene on June 12th.

If it was not for the actor’s gracious and compassionate appeal via social media outlets, which generated worldwide support for this former working elephant, Wildlife SOS might not be in a position to now provide care for Bijlee at one of their two elephant care and management facilities in India.

Wildlife SOS is perhaps most recognized for nearly extinguishing the practice of street dancing bears, but they also provide sanctuary for other animals in need like Asian elephants. Not only does the organization provide safe expansive enclosures for animals negatively impacted by escalating-wildlife conflict in South Asia, but they proactively combat wildlife poaching activities and help bring poachers to justice.

The non-profit wildlife rescue organization also deploys an anti-poaching unit to conduct surveillance activities from their Head Quarters in New Delhi. The unit works in conjunction with the police and Forest Department to monitor illegal activities involving wildlife and aids in the apprehension and prosecution of poachers and other criminals implicated in wildlife crimes.

As human-dominated landscapes continue to accommodate more people, as a consequence of continued population growth, elephants and other species are relegated to roam the only secure wild lands on the Indian Subcontinent—protected parks and wildlife sanctuaries.

On Sunday, Kartick Satyanarayan, the CEO of Wildlife SOS said, ” We are grateful to Mr. Amitabh Bachchan’s for sending his public appeal to animal welfare organizations like Wildlife SOS and others on behalf of this elephant, Bijlee. Without the compassionate support and concerned voice of notable public figures like Amitabh Bachchan, we might not have been able to recruit as much help as we have  from multiple animal rescue and welfare organizations across India.”

The Co-Founder and CEO of Wildlife SOS also extended a warm invitation to Amitabh Bachchan to consider a visit to see and meet  Bijlee, if and when, she is moved to and settled in at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Haven rescue facility near Agra down the road from the Taj Mahal.

Nikki Sharp, who represents Wildlife SOS overseas also praised the Bollywood icon. Ms. Sharp said, “We are ecstatic that Mr. Bachchan  put out this public appeal, which has ultimately saved Bijlee the elephant. Help getting the word out through celebrity supporters has always made a big impact on animal welfare causes and conservation in the US and Britain.”

Ms. Sharp went on to say that “a big Bollywood star with clout like Mr. Bachchan holds has much obvious influence in generating support for animal related concerns. His actions demonstrate just exactly the power celebrity has, and what good can come especially from someone with so much compassion and a voice people listen to.”

Mr. Bachchan made his inaugural debut in an American film this year when he appeared in the Great Gatsby. The award-winning actor is also a talented singer and film producer, but his work off-screen and on behalf of animals may be winning him just as much acclaim around the world.

The 54 year old former street begging Asian elephant cow is currently being attended to by veterinary staff  employed by Wildlife SOS. The staff clinicians were deployed to a suburb of Mumbai for emergency rescue soon after the actor posted a plea on his Twitter account. These veterinarians from the animal welfare organization’s Agra Bear Rescue Facility (ABRF) arrived on the scene the next day. The ABRF holds the largest population of captive sloth bears in the world and is located near the Taj Mahal.

Mr. Bachchan had issued his compassionate plea just in time, asking for help for the ailing former working elephant who collapsed  in critical condition in Mulund andwas unable to get up and stand on her own.  The actor’s plea elicited countless requests from supporters on social media venues.

In his post the actor stated that “[he does] believe in this unfortunate incident, and believe that if something can be done for this beleaguered elephant lying on the road in great misery, she will survive and flourish. So let us do our best that we can, for those that suffer, that speak of their misery in a language that we cannot understand, but who we know would understand any help that can be extended to them.”

Bijlee, a gentle and gigantic Asian pachyderm who had been forced to beg on the streets of India for much of her life was observed in a recumbent position, but was standing when Wildlife SOS’s senior staff veterinarian Dr. Yaduraj arrived on the scene. He had traveled overnight from the Agra Bear Rescue Facility (ABRF) to Mumbai specifically to assess the condition of the elephant and treat her if necessary.

Animal activists from NGO AMTM have also been on the scene advocating for better conditions and treatment of working elephants in India and other Asian countries and have been providing assistance to Wildlife SOS on the ground.

There are about 15,000 working elephants in several Asian countries and although some elephant handlers including mahouts in India treat their elephants kindly, most working elephants suffer from harsh treatment and even abuse from elephant handlers.

In fact, most elephant handlers in India use traditional and cruel techniques, and are unaware of positive management and training methods. Wildlife SOS is working to change this practice over time through their unique, chain free approach towards the management and care of cow elephants.

Dr. Yaduraj with Wildlife SOS tends to Bijlee with the help of volunteers
Dr. Yaduraj (Wildlife SOS) tends to Bijlee with the help of volunteers

Begging street elephants are particularly common in India.  Dr. Yaduraj stated, ” Street elephants are forced to perform for their street begging mahouts—their handlers.”

In the case of Bijlee, she was discovered dehydrated and infested with maggots. The veterinarian said “in order to get her out of a recumbent position, the elephant had to be lifted up with a crane allowed to stand for a short period and then allowed to lie down to rest her feet. He said, “she is being treated with fluids and antibiotics, but is still in very grave & critical condition.”

Regardless of whether an elephant has been abused in captivity, neglected or deliberately injured in the wild, Wildlife SOS is dedicated to rescuing these sentient beings at two of their rescue centers for elephants in India.

If  Bijlee makes a recovery, the wildlife biologists and veterinarians, as well as mahouts at Wildlife SOS elephant rescue facilities are prepared to care for her and introduce her to their herds, which are managed as some of the only captive elephant populations in India trained through animal friendly positive reinforcement techniques.

Mr. R.K. Poley, Chief Conservator of Forests, Thane said “The Maharashtra Forest department will extend complete cooperation to Wildlife SOS to shift these elephants to the rescue center at the earliest.”

Update: June 27, 2013

In response to this gracious call to action by Mr. Bachchan, Wildlife SOS has launched a petition to help working elephants in India.

Contact Petition Sponsor links for “Save India’s Begging Elephants

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Meet the Author

Author Photo Jordan Carlton Schaul
With training in wildlife ecology, conservation medicine and comparative psychology, Dr. Schaul's contributions to Nat Geo Voices have covered a range of environmental and social topics. He draws particular attention to the plight of imperiled species highlighting issues at the juncture or nexus of sorta situ wildlife conservation and applied animal welfare. Sorta situ conservation practices are comprised of scientific management and stewardship of animal populations ex situ (in captivity / 'in human care') and in situ (free-ranging / 'in nature'). He also has a background in behavior management and training of companion animals and captive wildlife, as well as conservation marketing and digital publicity. Jordan has shared interviews with colleagues and public figures, as well as editorial news content. In addition, he has posted narratives describing his own work, which include the following examples: • Restoration of wood bison to the Interior of Alaska while (While Animal Curator at Alaska Wildlife Conservation Center and courtesy professor at the University of Alaska) • Rehabilitation of orphaned sloth bears exploited for tourists in South Asia (While executive consultant 'in-residence' at the Agra Bear Rescue Center managed by Wildlife SOS) • Censusing small wild cat (e.g. ocelot and margay) populations in the montane cloud forests of Costa Rica for popular publications with 'The Cat Whisperer' Mieshelle Nagelschneider • Evaluating the impact of ecotourism on marine mammal population stability and welfare off the coast of Mexico's Sea of Cortez (With Boston University's marine science program) Jordan was a director on boards of non-profit wildlife conservation organizations serving nations in Africa, North and South America and Southeast Asia. He is also a consultant to a human-wildlife conflict mitigation organization in the Pacific Northwest. Following animal curatorships in Alaska and California, he served as a charter board member of a zoo advocacy and outreach organization and later as its executive director. Jordan was a member of the Communication and Education Commission of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (CEC-IUCN) and the Bear Specialist Group of the IUCN Species Survival Commission (BSG-SSC-IUCN). He has served on the advisory council of the National Wildlife Humane Society and in service to the Bear Taxon Advisory Group of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA Bear TAG). In addition he was an ex officio member of council of the International Association for Bear Research and Management. Contact Email: