Dead elderly Indian elephant Joyraj mourned

Image source, Elke Riesterer
Image caption,
Joyraj retired in 2008 after more than 65 years of hard work

A US based animal welfare advocate has joined Indian wildlife lovers in paying tribute to a giant 73-year-old retired working elephant who died earlier this week in India.

Joyraj, a majestic 3.35m tall elephant had lived and worked in Kaziranga National Park, in Assam state.

Keepers at the park said other elephants had also mourned Joyraj.

Elke Riesterer told the BBC: "There was a great soul residing in that massive grey body."

"I was very fond of this elephant and I am grieving [over] his death," Ms Riesterer said.

Kaziranga National Park lies 220km (130 miles) east of Assam state's main city of Guwahati.

'Darling of Kaziranga'

Mohan Karmakar, Joyraj's "mahout", or keeper, told the AFP news agency on Wednesday: "He was the darling of Kaziranga for decades and I could not stop crying when he breathed his last this morning."

Image source, Elke Riesterer
Image caption,
Joyraj was one of about a dozen elephants especially trained to take tourists into the world-famous rhino sanctuary in Kaziranga

"A number of other elephants nearby were trumpeting loudly and had tears rolling down their faces - a sight best seen than told," Mr Karmakar said.

Joyraj worked at the Kaziranga reserve for 65 years until he retired in 2008. His main task was to transport tourist into the jungle and give them the opportunity to see the resident rhinos and other animals.

"He also helped us break up fights between wild tuskers (males) inside the park and engaged in several of the anti-poaching operations," Mr Karmakar said.

Ms Riesterer, who is also an animal body therapist, met Joyraj in 2008, when he had been diagnosed with a skin condition, partial blindness and a fungal infection.

She said that tamed elephants in Kaziranga have a better quality of life than elephants used for religious ceremonies, weddings and birthday parties in heavily polluted Indian cities.

Such "entertainment-related activities" can "deeply scar the psyche of these wonderful creatures", she said.

"Joyraj on the other hand has had a full life living into old age. He had beautifully long tusks and was fortunate that [he kept them and] no-one harmed him for his impressive body parts.

"It was an honour to meet him and physically tend to him. He carried the wisdom of an elder."

Image source, Elke Riesterer
Image caption,
Elke Riesterer treated Joyraj for various ailments in 2008

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