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Kandula has worked in Habarana giving tourist rides for the last 15 years. Because of the constant use of of howdahs, he has developed a muscular back problem. His owner has sent Kandula and his mahout, Sunil, here to MEF to recover using a specialist treatment advised by our doctor. Over the past 3 days I have been fortunate enough to watch the healing process begin.

The treatment began with fermentation. 3 times a day I would bath the top of Kandula’s back in hot water. The problem worsens when his muscles became cold so heat is vital (especially first thing in the morning). The first time I treated Kandula Sunil asked him to lay on his side so I could reach his back. The second time, and every treatment since, I have climbed up Kandula’s leg where I sit straddling his back. This is a very rare opportunity and one I am enjoying immensely.

Yesterday, the mahouts grinded a paste using a giant pestle and mortar, which I later learned was for Kandula. The ingredients were exotic-coconut, strong smelling leaves (I need to find out what they were), medicinal syrup and monkey beans. The ointment was laid onto pieces of cloth and tied up to create three poultices.

Later, at Kandula’s bed side, Sunil created a small fire on which he placed a tin bowl of water covered in cloth. He placed the poultices on top to heat them up with the steam. I climb up Kandula’s leg once again where Sunil throws me the first steaming hot poultice. I massage the top of the back releasing the hot, soothing oils. Sunil re-heats each poultice once, the whole process takes about 15 minutes. I then climb down, Sunil thanks me and I leave.

Prior to Kandula, Sunil has worked with 12 other elephants. His last elephant before Kandula killed 12 of his mahouts. Kandula and Sunil have now been together for more than 20 years and it really shows. Sunil never raises his voice to Kandula and only uses his ankus when necessary. Watching Sunil wash Kandula in the river is beautiful, even the other mahouts watch on from the hut as Sunil murmurs commands which Kandula swiftly reacts to-no ankus, no shouting.

The relationship between man and elephant, in this case, is solid, loving and respectful. I feel insanely happy to be a small part of it and to witness them working together every day.

I will continue treating Kandula twice a day until I leave. The time I spend with him and Sunil is truly magical, time I will never forget.

Sally Welburn


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