Deserted by jumbo herd, calf fights odds (India)


P Oppili, Times of India

Date Published

A six-month-old calf that an elephant herd abandoned in the Kanyakumari forests late last year and rejected again a few months later when foresters attempted to reunite them is battling multiple health complications in a rare display of survival instinct in the city’s zoo. 

The calf, a female, has a festering wound from the umbilical cord, probably caused during birth, is asthmatic, has hernia problems and severe diarrhoea — all of which forest officials believe contributed to the herd abandoning, as it would have proved an impediment to their own progress and survival. 

Foresters are wary of making an optimistic prognosis for the calf but say it is showing a fighting spirit unusual for an ailing young animal, especially one of a species highly dependent on social interaction, after facing rejection from its herd. 

Arignar Anna Zoological Park director K S S V P Reddy said even after being treated at the zoo, the animal’s health has not shown any marked improvement. “We give the calf 6kg of lactogen II and enough tender coconut water every day,” he said. “We can’t give it anything else because of its severe digestive problems.” 

The zoo spends Rs 50,000 a month on the calf, he said. 

Zoo officials initially wanted to exhibit the calf with other sub-adult elephants, but its poor health has left it unable to walk for even a few hundred yards. “It gets tired quickly and we don’t want it to face unnecessary pressure that could make its health worse,” Reddy said. 

Employees of the zoo have set up a thatched shed with a fan for the calf to cope with the summer heat. They cannot spray it with water because it could worsen its asthma, Reddy said. 

“The calf has recovered a little after we gave it treatment for its umbilical cord wound and diarrhoea,” he said. “Its condition is so delicate that it developed wheezing problems when it rained last week.” 

With so many complications it will be difficult for the calf to survive, Indian Institute of Sciences, Bengaluru, Centre for Ecological Sciences professor Raman Sukumar. “If veterinarians provide it 24×7 care it may survive,” he said. “The herd abandoning the calf is just natural selection at work in the wild. Its mother would most likely have tried to stay with the calf for a couple of days before realising that it could not keep up,” he said.