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  • Ayan Mehra

This Christmas, Help Rhea

Updated: Dec 22, 2021

I have recently started collaborating with a Wildlife Conservation NGO in India called Wildlife SOS. Wildlife SOS was founded in 1995, and is best known for its work to help eradicate the horrific practice of dancing bears in India. Sloth bears were forcibly taken from the wild and made to dance in street performances for the entertainment of humans. Obviously this is an unnatural thing for bears to do and it takes a massive toll on their mental and physical health. Wildlife SOS rehabilitates these bears into their reserves so that they can live out the rest of their days healthy, happy, and free. To ensure the practice of dancing bears is eradicated forever, Wildlife SOS also provides alternative forms of livelihood to members of the Kalandar community that tamed sloth bears for a living.


Wildlife SOS is also involved with is rescuing abused captive elephants. In India, elephant calves are ripped from the wild and their families to perform in circuses wedding parties, or to beg near temples. To tame the elephant, keepers have to put the elephant through a terrible breaking in called Phajaan, which literally means "Breaking of the spirit". Phajaan is the process by which an elephant calf's spirit is broken so that he/she can be tamed. To do this elephant calves are tethered and locked to a cage without food or water. They are beaten for several weeks with whips and sharp metal tools. The mahout (elephant keeper) then gives the elephant its first meal and releases it from the cage. By doing this, the elephant calf is manipulated into likening the mahout to a savior, rather than a captor.


Wildlife SOS strives for there to be no captive elephants in India, and rescues those who have had to endure these hardships for decades on end. I am working with Wildlife SOS to help one of their recued elephants, Rhea. Rhea is a 58 year old former circus elephant. She was rescued in 2016, and she had arthritic limbs and worn out foot pads from the long days of standing, walking and performing without rest. Wildlife SOS describes "[Rhea's] toenails were overgrown and she was exhausted and weak to a point that when she arrived at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Center, all she wanted to do was lie down. Being reunited with her companions from the same circus, Rhea trumpeted and we witnessed a series of trunk hugs between the three almost as though welcoming her in this lifelong journey of compassion and healing together." Rhea is currently at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Centre, and is getting treatment for her arthritic limbs and worn out foot pads.

Rhea, the rescue elephant at Wildlife SOS. Photo (c) Wildlife SOS


If you are moved by the story of Rhea, and would like to help, you can make a contribution for her care, and for the care of other mistreated animals like her by buying Christmas gift tags on this site or the original sketch of Rhea. 100% of the profit from the sales of the cards and sketch will go towards adoption of Rhea and other elephants or sloth bears at Wildlife SOS. Thank you for making this Christmas not just special for humans, but also for the animals with whom we share our planet.

Portrait of Rhea, by Ayan Kamath Mehra




Christmas Cards, 100% profit goes to adoption of rescued animals at Wildlife SOS