A water clinic for elephants opens on the banks of the Yamuna

Rescued elephants undergo rehab.

Updated - December 03, 2021 10:16 am IST

Published - June 19, 2019 10:34 pm IST - NEW DELHI

India has opened its first specialised hydrotherapy treatment for elephants suffering from arthritis, joint pain and foot ailments near the Wildlife SOS’ Elephant Conservation and Care Centre (ECCC), which currently houses 20 rescued elephants and is run in collaboration with the Uttar Pradesh Forest Department and the NGO Wildlife SOS.

Situated on the banks of the Yamuna in Mathura, the new hydrotherapy jumbo pool is 11-foot-deep and has 21 high pressure jet sprays that create water pressure that massage the elephants’ feet and body and help in increasing blood circulation.

“The hospital started in 2018 already offers state-of-the-art modern facilities including wireless digital X-ray, laser treatment, dental X-ray, thermal imaging and ultrasonography to treat injured, sick and geriatric elephants,’’ said Dr. Yaduraj Khadpekar, senior wildlife veterinary officer.

He said with each elephant rescue they had observed a disturbing pattern. “In captive elephants their bodies are weakened due to improper nutrition, their bodies and delicate feet are riddled with wounds and painful abscesses. Osteoarthritis and foot issues are common ailments. Water resistance is useful for muscle strengthening and cardiovascular training while water pressure can reduce oedema and swelling,”Dr. Khadpekar said.

The elephants at the Wildlife SOS have been rescued from extreme distress. Some were privately owned and had the cruel history of being used for begging.

“Captive elephants in such situations are made to navigate environments that their body was not built for. Standing on concrete for long periods becomes an invitation to the early onset of arthritis. Also, due to lack of proper foot care, the toenails and cuticles of the elephants overgrow and become more prone to cracking,” the vet said.As such, standing and walking becomes painful for these long ranging animals,’’ said the vet.

Kartick Satyanarayan, co-founder and CEO Wildlife SOS, said: “The jumbo hydrotherapy pool installed at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Hospital is equipped with high pressure water jets that massage the elephants’ feet and body which is critically important component of the treatment as it also helps oxygen and vital minerals to reach the muscle tissues.”

He said an effective complementary treatment for the elephants’ painful joints and feet is hydrotherapy, a form of physical therapy that uses the therapeutic benefits of water to perform physical rehabilitation in animals.

“Exerting hydrostatic pressure that compresses muscle and joints, hydrotherapy helps in relieving chronic muscle aches as well as rebuild muscle memory with its natural resistance,’’ he said.

Geeta Seshamani, co-founder Wildlife SOS, said while the past cannot be changed for these animals, the team of veterinarians and trained staff work round the clock to cater to the needs of the rescued elephants requiring medical care. “We hope that through such specialised treatments, we will be able to identify and develop a model for management of Asian elephants in captivity across the world,” she said.

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