Sandhya, 43 years, is the ‘Ma’ of the group. The pink pigmentation on her trunk and her dark-ringed eyes give her a very unique and distinguished look. The two younger elephants, Indu and Jayanthi, who previously worked alongside her at the same temple in Kanchipuram, look up to her as their matriarch. She is a wise and calm leader who cooperates with her caretakers when they clean her, conduct tests or take measurements. She loves splashing water on herself and wallowing in her muddy pond.
Before arriving at the sanctuary, Sandhya spent over 35 years of her life chained inside a granite shed with hard granite floors. These unnatural living conditions led to ankylosis (joint stiffness) in her left foreleg, fistulous tracts (abnormal opening) in the right and left hip region, and foot sores. She also developed an unnatural stoop, which belies her actual size. These medical conditions were not treated on time, and she still suffers from their effects.
Sandhya in Captivity
When Sandhya first arrived at the sanctuary she was very nervous and uncertain. In the beginning, she just stood in one place due to force of habit. Even when she was persuaded to walk, she would take a couple of steps, stop and look around. After 5-6 months of Nada Yaanai (“Walk elephant!”) commands from her caregivers, she slowly gained confidence. It took her six months to understand she was free to do as she pleased.
Today, Sandhya is a happy elephant! She moves around joyfully in her enclosure, chain-free, clutching on to her ‘toy’, an old tyre given to her. She enjoys eating aval (flattened rice), flattened barley, boiled vegetables, and the occasional peanut and jaggery balls. She continues to be the benevolent mom of the group, calming the younger ones when they get excited or alarmed.