Elephants have been a prominent part of India’s rich cultural history. However, Asian elephants as well as their African counterparts are under the constant threat of poaching, habitat loss, human-elephant conflict and severe abuse in captivity. In the last three generations, the Asian elephant population has declined by at least 50%. It is shocking to learn that today only about 27,000 wild elephants remain in India, as opposed to a million a decade ago as indicated by research. According to the census conducted in 2018 by Project Elephant there are 2,454 captive elephants in India.
Elephant calves are poached from the wild and robbed of a chance to grow up with their mothers and the herd. They are kept in isolation and made to go through a barbaric training process called ‘Phajaan’, which is aimed to break their ‘spirit’. The indoctrination of a wild elephant calf into captivity is rife with cruelty and involves tightly restraining the calf by all four legs and subjecting it to beatings, torture and starvation. Moreover, captive elephants are routinely denied nutritious food, clean water and even basic veterinary care. Since elephants, much like humans are social animals, this isolation has a grave impact on them psychologically, and they show signs of mental distress through stereotypic behaviour such as head-bobbing, swaying, etc. This abuse continues into the training of these elephants, and to this day, daily thousands of elephants across India are beaten, tortured, overworked and starved, as they continue to slave for their owners who illegally exploit them commercially to make profits.
Every year a large footfall of tourists comes to India and for most tourists, an encounter with elephants is a must-have experience. Unfortunately, instead of going and seeing elephants in their natural habitats, tourists are more often than not led to captive elephants that can be found begging on the streets, participating in temple ceremonies or giving rides at tourist hotspots. Lack of information about what goes behind making an elephant tamed has greatly contributed towards incentivizing the capture of young calves from the wild.
Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-founder & CEO of Wildlife SOS, said, “Awareness is key to curbing such practices as not everyone is aware of the dark truth behind making an elephant rideable. A tourist often does not realise the irresponsibility of indulging in these exploitative elephant experiences. By normalizing and supporting the captivity of elephants, a tourist also unknowingly hampers the on-ground conservation efforts to maintain a healthy elephant population in the wild. These elephants even after rehabilitation cannot be released into the wild again as they never learnt the important survival skills from their herd.”
Last year the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) published a shocking report about the dire conditions of the elephants giving rides at Amer Fort in Jaipur. According to the evaluation, there are a total of 103 elephants that are being used to give joyrides to tourists. Nearly 20% of the elephants were observed to be blind and 10 elephants tested positive for TB, which is a public health risk. Moreover, all the elephants were suffering from severe foot ailments such as deformation, cracks, bruised footpads, etc.
In 2018, Wildlife SOS launched its RefuseToRide campaign that aims at educating the public about the truth of elephant joyrides in Jaipur and all across the world. With the creation of one-stop information deck, tourists can access information about elephant joyrides and can as such make informed choices while travelling to India. You can help put an end to this by signing their on-going petition; https://bit.ly/2PCBpTT
Geeta Seshamani, Co-founder & Secretary of Wildlife SOS said, “Jaipur ranks high on the tourist route and elephant rides are on the bucket list of most foreign tourists coming to India. Sadly, they are misled by elephant exploiters and get sucked into the elephant cruelty industry. Our objective is to promote responsible tourism, so tourists are empowered with knowledge. If one sees the cruel and painful training that goes into making the animal rideable, I don’t think anyone will want to ride an elephant ever again!”
India based charity Wildlife SOS first put their concern about the plight of India’s elephants in 2009 and established a one-of-a-kind Elephant Conservation and Care Center (ECCC) in 2010. The centre is currently providing lifetime care and treatment to over 25 rescued elephants. Here not only do distressed elephants get a second chance at life but visitors too are given educational tours to sensitize them about the conservation of elephants in India and the need to save this magnificent species.
For more information & pics, contact Arinita Ph. 9560011875 – email [email protected]
Wildlife SOS (WSOS) is a non-profit charity established in 1998 with the primary objective of rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife in distress across India. We actively run wildlife and nature protection projects to promote conservation, combat poaching & illegal wildlife trade. We also work in partnership with the Government and indigenous communities to create sustainable, alternate livelihoods for erstwhile poacher communities.