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Death of Indian Working Elephant “Bijlee” Starts Global Movement

It was legendary Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan who essentially, with intention or not, launched this campaign to help working elephants through his tweeted and compassionate appeal to animal welfarists.   Early last week, Mr. Bachchan requested welfarists and the like, to come to the aid of one suffering begging street elephant (a type of working elephant) named “Bijlee” and it seems...

It was legendary Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachchan who essentially, with intention or not, launched this campaign to help working elephants through his tweeted and compassionate appeal to animal welfarists.
Early last week, Mr. Bachchan requested welfarists and the like, to come to the aid of one suffering begging street elephant (a type of working elephant) named “Bijlee” and it seems to have started a whole movement to end the working Asian elephant practice. 

On June 26th,  News Watch published a tribute to Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan by India’s largest wildlife conservation and animal welfare organization, Wildlife SOS.

The tribute recognized the Bollywood icon for bringing attention to one 54 year old suffering female Asian elephant — “Bijlee”— who was fighting for her life in critical condition on the side of the road in a suburb of Mumbai, India. First on the scene was the Indian charity Animals Matter To Me, followed by countless other groups including Wildlife SOS.

Unfortunately, Bijlee died early Sunday morning after her condition progressively deteriorated. “In her last day she remained in a recumbant position and was only able to be repositioned with the help of a crane,” according to Wildlife SOS Senior Veterinarian Dr. Yaduraj. A postmortem examination will be conducted shortly.

 Bijlee, a former begging elepIMG_0570hant is under the care of two of Wildlife SOS’s senior wildlife veterinarians, Dr. Yaduraj and Dr. Ajay. Other veterinarians were also tending to the down Pachyderm.

 The CEO of the animal welfare and rescue charity Kartick Satyanarayan said, “We deployed Dr. Yaduraj nearly 10 days ago from our Agra- based facilities where he has been working with both bears and elephants.” Earlier this week, Mr. Satyanarayan visited Bijlee personally to assess her condition and said, “Our entire Wildlife SOS team is very concerned about Bijlee’s rapidly declining health.”

Dr. Yaduraj who radiographed Bijlee said, “Her condition remained critical and her prognosis was not good.” He also said, “Long term and continuous neglect and abuse by her owner has had a profoundly negative impact on her health.” He suspected she might pass this week and unfortunately she has.

The plight of working elephants in India like the late Bijlee is often quite disturbing. And the future is not much brighter for wild elephants as noted in the National Geographic article: “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.”

Although Wildlife SOS is committed to conserving wild elephants and mitigating human-elephant conflict, right now they are dedicated to caring for eight rescued elephants at their rescue centers. These pachyderms under human care include some former begging elephants at their Elephant Intensive Care Facility— “Elephant Haven” near Agra and their larger 400 acre and more recently constructed Elephant Rescue and Conservation Center in Haryana, India. The new Haryana facility is managed in collaboration with the state’s Forest Department with support from the Government of India’s Project Elephant.

Mr. Satyanarayan said, “Both captive and wild Asian elephants are in trouble, in fact they are endangered. Hundreds of working elephants succumb to abuse and neglect by private owners everyday.” He went on to say that “Last week, a herd of wild elephants entered a school in Bangalore, which posed a threat not only to people, but possibly to the elephants themselves, this incident could have escalated, resulting in retaliatory killings of the wild elephants.

Human-elephant conflict and working elephant welfare issues persists throughout India and is a growing concern for conservationists and welfarists alike. For thousands of years working elephants were used in labor activities like logging, military activities and transportation, but such service needs of elephants were essentially rendering obsolete following the Industrial Revolution.

With that said elephants continue to be exploited on the streets of India where they are forced to beg on the streets, in temples and perform in marriages or circuses. Wildlife SOS recognized Mr. Amitabh Bachchan for bringing attention to the plight of Bijlee’s last week that drew national and international attention to the unfortunate lives of begging elephants in India.

To further the cause Wildlife SOS launched their “Save India’s Begging Elephant” petition to help these working street elephants and extinguish the practice, as they have nearly done for dancing street bears. The organization has specifically appealed to other celebrities to come to the aid of begging elephants as Mr. Bachchan graciously did last week in his appeal to recruit help for Bijlee.

Mr. Satyanarayan said, “Our whole Wildlife SOS family hopes that Bijlee did not die in vain.”

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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: