The city is still very hot for four orphaned elephant calves growing up at Vandalur zoo, but a large water tank constructed exclusively for them has made the prolonged Chennai summer bearable.

Even enjoyable, if one watches the elephants cavorting in the tank.

Their home, spread over a sprawling 30-hectare area, is covered with a variety of trees, a huge water tank for bathing and muddy area for wallowing. A fresh water tank for drinking and wild bamboo diet once a week, make them feel at their original home — the forests.

The four male calves — Saravanan (6), rescued from Sathyamangalam, Urigam (5), from Urigam in Hosur, Giri (4), from Javalagiri in Hosur, and Asokan (3), from Bhavani Sagar in Mettuppalayam, are enjoying their stay in the sprawling enclosure in the zoo. The elephant enclosure at Vandalur is the biggest when compared to other zoos in the country, says a zoo official.

The eldest among the calves, Saravanan, was caught in a snare and sustained injuries in his front left leg. Due to this, he was abandoned by his family and later rescued by Sathyamangalam forest officials, who sent him to Vandalur zoo for rehabilitation.

A senior wildlife official says orphaned or abandoned elephant calves rescued by forest officials began arriving at the zoo in 2007. Two years ago, six calves, rescued from various forest areas, landed in the zoo for rehabilitation, but two of them could not be saved.

For the calves, the day begins at 7 a.m. when they go around the zoo on a walk. Once they come back, they enter the water tank and play in it.

Once the elephants enter a water body or a pond in the wild, they spend hours together playing and spraying water on each other, says the official. Similarly, when they feel the heat, they automatically head to the muddy area close to the tank, in the zoo.

Ragi, rice, horse gram, banana, coconut, papaya, jaggery, salt and sugarcane form part of the daily diet for the calves and are provided twice a day, says a zoo veterinarian.

One of the calves, which came to the zoo within 15 days of its birth, was taken care of by the tribals of Varagaliyar in Topslip, Pollachi.

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