I have been interested in working with animals from a young age, especially elephants. I remember visiting India at the age of 12 and being told to ride elephants up a hill to a fort. They were poorly treated and covered in heavy fabrics which, combined with the heat, made it difficult for them to move. As soon as I saw the conditions, I refused. I knew from that moment that I wanted to help the beautiful creatures.
In 2017, I travelled to Thailand through Veterinarians without Borders. Upon arrival, we visited some of the baby elephants that were kept with their mothers. I wore citronella bracelets to protect myself from mosquitoes and one of the elephants, thinking they were food, grabbed my arm. An elephant’s trunk is extremely strong, so I thought I was done for. I managed to twist my arm in such a way that released her hold of my wrist, but I was left mortified.
The second day was our first day working one on one with the elephants and I was nervous. I kept a fair distance between my elephant—Namchoke—and I. As we walked down to the river, she could tell that I was apprehensive. She began bridging the gap between us and nuzzled me as a dog or cat would. She didn’t stop until I reached out and stroked her trunk. She had finally broken my barrier and she could not have been happier; I am certain I even saw a smile on her face. After her kindness, all my doubts and fears went away.
Going to Thailand, I had been afraid of the unknown as I had never been around elephant so freely before. However, I came back from the trip surer than ever that working with these majestic creatures was a possibility.
I wasn’t set on medicine until I had the opportunity to travel to South Africa in 2019 and work on an African elephant. In South Africa, to treat wild animals, the veterinarian must first sedate the animal using a dart. On our way to meet the veterinarian, we ran into one of her friends. Even as the elephant began charging at us, I couldn’t help but be elated that I was seeing an elephant again. As we reached the elephant we were treating, I was immediately ready to go. I jumped out of the vehicle and raced to the trunk to monitor the respiratory rate. I was so engrossed in making sure that the breathing was steady, that I almost didn’t hear the other students calling my name to take a blood sample from the ear. This was my first-time taking a blood sample, and it was probably the easiest to do as the veins on elephant’s ears are extremely difficult to miss. I couldn’t manage to shake my excitement as we continued with treatments and, when I was given the opportunity to perform the reversal, my hands were shaking with excitement. She only took a few minutes to get to her feet, but I wish I could’ve stayed in that moment forever.
I had been waiting for so long to get a chance like that, and it finally came. I am still in shock that I got a taste of what I want the rest of my life to be. Working on the elephant reinforced my passion for the magnificent giants and has given me insight into a side of veterinary medicine that I have grown to love—wildlife.
Written by: Nitika Sansgiry
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