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Kajalkali obituary: Sauraha’s lumbering giant

Anushka Nepal

Anushka Nepal

Kajalkali obituary: Sauraha’s lumbering giant

Kajalkali was a reason for joy for many holidaymakers, but her own life as a captive elephant was not a happy one

Kajalkali, a safari elephant who gave fun memories to many visitors who came to holiday in Sauraha, Chitwan, succumbed to old age-related maladies on June 26. She was around 60.

Kajalkali was a reason for joy for many people whom she carried on her back and took on safari of Chitwan National Park, but her own life was not a happy one. She was after all a captive elephant, without a herd or even a natural habitat. She led a domesticated life among humans, who dictated what she did and where she went.

Not much is known about Kajalkali’s early life other than that she was born in India and brought to Sauraha in 2017. For an Asian elephant, she was already in her twilight years when she was put to work as a safari elephant.

“Despite her old age and poor health, she was used for jungle safari for three and a half years,” says Babu Ram Lamichhane, senior conservation officer at the National Trust of Nature Conservation (NTNC). 

Although Kajalkali was privately owned, the trust monitored her health and well-being. Kajalkali’s previous owner had last year abandoned her when she started showing signs of illness. He had sold her to an Indian buyer even though the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), as well as the National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act, 1973, bans elephant trade. 

Kajalkali never made it to India. Authorities intercepted the truck that was transporting her to the south and she was returned to Sauraha.

Shri Lal Pariyar, a hotel owner in Sauraha, took Kajalkali in, as her previous owner wanted nothing to do with her. She was given shelter and fed by the hotel, while the NTNC looked after her medical needs. 

“Two caregivers were attending to Kajalkali as she had gotten too feeble,” says Lamichhane.

Kajalkali was showing many signs of aging. For instance, she had lost several teeth, which made it difficult for her to chew. 

Elephants can lose and regrow their teeth six times at most. After that, they do not grow back, which was the case for Kajalkali, says Lamichhane. “She wasn't eating properly and became emaciated, which resulted in a severe digestive issue," he adds.

Kajalkali was getting weaker by the day and there came a point where she couldn’t even bear her own weight. She collapsed on May 23 and had to be lifted with an excavator.

“Veterinarians administered her with saline drips to nurse her back to health,” says Lamichhane. 

Kajalkali recovered but not fully. She collapsed for the second time on May 31 and then again a few days later, and this time never to get up on her feet. 

Kajalkali stopped eating entirely; she couldn’t even drink water. People who witnessed her in her last days reported seeing her drawing water with her trunk and putting it in her mouth, but she was unable to swallow. Every now and then, she would move her feet and trunk but other than that there was barely a movement.

Kajalkali died on the afternoon of June 26 and she was buried on the spot where she took her last breath.