India has opened a first of its kind elephant hospital and it's adorable.

Photo by DIBYANGSHU SARKAR/AFP/Getty Images.

India’s first elephant hospital, the Wildlife SOS ElephantHospital, has opened in the Hindu holy town of Mathura, located in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

Injured, sick, rescued, and elderly elephants now have a home to receive the care that they need. The facility is run by non-profit Wildlife SOS. Wildlife SOS also runs a conservation and care center near the newly opened hospital, and is currently home to 22 elephants.

The Wildlife SOS Elephant Hospital was designed with the needs of our four-legged friends in mind. The 12,000-square ft. facility contains x-ray, thermal imaging, and ultrasound machines, tranquilization devices,  a hydrotherapy pool, an in-house pathology lab, and quarantine facilities.


The hospital will even enable remote patients to receive care. “Our hospital has center with very portable kind of machinery,” explains Geeta Seshamani, Wildlife SOS co-founder. “So if an elephant is hit-and-run very far away anywhere in North India, we can go there and we can take care of it on site itself.”

“The hospital is something really special because for centuries India has used its elephants and abused them,” added Seshamani. “Today, for the first time, we can offer them a place where we can heal them and take very good care of them.”

Among those abused elephants who will find a safe haven at the Wildlife SOS Elephant Hospital will be elephants who were abused in captivity, elephants who were turned into tourist attractions, and elephants who were involved in freeway accidents.

“These elephants go through a lot of abuse, brutality, cruelty in order to be ridden,” Wildlife SOS co-founder Kartick Satyanarayan said in a BCC interview. “And through that process, they develop abscesses, internal problems, back problems, all kinds of health issues that need to be addressed.”

Between 50 and 60 percent of Asia’s wild elephants reside in India. Just 20 percent of domesticated elephants call the country home. With such a large elephant population, conservation should be at the forefront, especially since India’s elephant population is on the decline. In 2012, India’s elephant population was 29,391 – 30,711. By 2017, it had fallen to 27,312.  

Photo by Suhridam/Wikicommons

Elephants are highly revered as both cultural and religious symbols in India, however they have been subjected to brutal mistreatment.

Some fall victim to the wildlife trade, while others are mistreated by mahouts (caretakers). Others are poached, poisoned, or electrocuted.

“I think by building a hospital we are underlining the fact that elephants need welfare measures as much as any other animal,”Seshamani told Reuters TV. “That captive elephants are not meant to be used and abused but instead have to be given the respect which an animal needs if you are going to be using the animal.”

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Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

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Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

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Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

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