It is with a heavy heart that GRI has to report that Suni, the orphaned elephant who was brutally disabled in an attack as a young calf, was put to sleep earlier today after an intense three year battle for her recovery.
In April 2012 Suni was found by the roadside, dragging herself along on her front two legs after an axe attack to her spine had rendered her paralysed in the back half of her body. With support from the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA) she was transferred to the Lilayi Elephant Nursery (LEN) for veterinary care and in the hope that given intense nursing and support she might recover the full use of her back legs. Within a few months Suni showed significant improvement in mobility and wellbeing although she lacked sensation in the back right leg and foot and could not walk properly. At the GRI-Elephant Orphanage Project Suni was given the best care possible over the past three years, which included the necessary physical support for her disabled limb, a huge variety of supportive therapies, as well as the emotional support from her devoted keepers and surrogate elephant herd. With thanks to highly specialised supportive boots Suni was able to live a mostly ‘normal’ life within the orphan herd, socialising with the other elephants, joining the herd on daily walks and engaging in playful mud-bathing.
Supporting Suni was an incredible challenge, which required intense medical support every day of her life. Our intention was that if we could support her to walk without damage or pain that over time sensation would return to the limb enabling her to place her foot correctly. Nearly three years after surgery we saw no significant improvement in her ability to use her foot, and thus it was acknowledged that she would never be able to survive independently and without limb support. The lack of sensation resulted in Suni sustaining injury to her limb that she could not feel. As she grew heavier (she weighed 630kg in July) these injuries became more significant and more difficult and dangerous to manage.
The decision to euthanise Suni has been the most difficult decision ever faced by the GRI-Elephant Orphanage Project. She was an important family member to a special herd of orphaned elephants and became like an adopted child to her keepers. However, Suni’s standard of welfare was always the priority and thus the maintenance of her physical and psychological condition was paramount. If she had been kept alive Suni would have been increasingly physically restricted by her own capabilities and the high level of maintenance and management required. With such a disability in the leg the likelihood for detrimental compensation was very high, but also she would never truly be part of a herd, which is a vital element of elephant society, especially for females. The decision for euthanasia was therefore concluded after all possible options for her continued existence had been explored and with priority placed upon the level of welfare she would have experienced.
Suni holds a special place in the hearts of many. Her story is a poignant reminder of the harsh reality facing Zambia’s elephants. Not only was Suni robbed of her family as a young calf but she was also robbed of a future when she was so brutally attacked. We must ensure the same fate does not fall upon others like Suni by providing wild elephants with adequate protection! Suni’s fighting spirit and legacy will live on through our unwavering efforts to rescue, rehabilitate and release orphaned elephants back into the wild where they belong.