Elephants: to ride or not to ride

Should you ride Elephants in India?

Should you ride Elephants in India?

The thought of coming to India and having the opportunity to ride Elephants was at first very exciting but very quickly my thoughts changed and have continued to do so, was this due to my background, my culture, my education?

– Yes, of course it was!

Its very difficult to put ourselves in their shoes as we know no different and nor do they…This is part of their culture, their heritage and most importantly their livelihood and if they are treated well, what is the problem? who are we to criticise when we domesticate horses; ride them, train them to dance, hunt foxes, show jump, gather cattle, use for entertainment purposes and historically go to battle.

Just because this species of animal is familiar to us and not an exotic species, that we have not encountered, who are we to judge when both species have evidently been domesticated since at least 3000BC!

Like all organisms we, Homo-sapiens, adapt and evolve to our environment and that involves using the resources around us whether its to make tools, build great temples, and help with transportation and colonisation. However, in modern times our views have changed drastically to the way we treat animals and in this instance that is my biggest concern. We visited three separate locations where it is possible to interact with Elephants. The first was Amber Fort in Jaipur where you can ride an Elephant up to the temple:

Elephants: to ride or not to ride

Elephant walk to Amber Fort

There is apparently 110 registered Elephants in Jaipur that are used for Amber Fort and during the hot months they are only allowed to make 3 rides a day due to the heat, each ride costing 900rs, and in the cooler months 5 rides a day, which seems fair but I have no comparison or veterinary/animal training to comment from a medical perspective, nor know how well this is managed. But again, let me compare this to my experiences: a dog walker is paid to walk a dog for 2hrs a day, now it takes 15mins to get there and 15 mins to return so why did they return within 2hrs, without knowing I was home, they were either driving like crazy with dogs in cages in the back, or not walking them for long enough…so again, how well can these situations be managed?

 

Elephants: to ride or not to ride

Elephants at Amber Fort Jaipur

I do not like to see the use of sticks and certainly an ‘ankus’ which is a spike used behind the ear to guide and manage the Elephant’s…you will often see holes in their ears from mis-use. So this here is my first concern, not to mention the carriages on their back and no form of shade or shelter for them to rest, or water and food. But again, let me compare that to my experiences and culture – I used to live next door a lady who had stables and a paddock for dressage; the horses stayed in their stables all night and were dressed with saddles for their dressage practice in the day followed by a brief roam around the fields…is there much difference?

Elephants: to ride or not to ride

Elephants at Jaipur

In my 31 years I have barely gone a month without a dog in the house and not one of them has been a pet, every one is a big part of the family and in some cases more important. Interacting with these creatures I instantly felt their sensitivity and understand how they are such an emotional animal, and therefore, in the right environments such a strong bond is created between Elephant and Mahout (Elephant keeper)…

Elephants: to ride or not to ride

Elephants in Elephant village

At Elephant village in Jaipur, there is a strong bond between Mahout and Elephant and each partnership is paired together from inception, they care for them, feed them, wash them and sleep next door each other. A large area for the elephant and a small 2 bedroom facility for the Mahout and his family. I didn’t see an ‘ankus’ nor sticks, I did see some chains (rope) but was assured this was for their protection in their sleeping area so that they do not scratch themselves against the dry walls with their dry skin during feeding. also keeps them contained at night and as he mentioned it was a mere deterrent not full restraint as they could easily break it in a second. I also liked the fact that there was no saddle or carriage…

Elephants: to ride or not to ride

Elephants in Elephant village

Painting Elephants dates back for centuries, especially in Rajasthan as is symbolises royalty so many kings and princes would travel to the state with their decorated Elephants. It is also a symbol for “Ganesh” – remover of obstacles and god of wisdom, so Elephants are generally very well-respected in Hindi regions…

 

Elephants: to ride or not to ride

Elephants in Elephant village

They all showed good signs, flapping their ears and wagging theirs tails as well as good feeding patterns and pink pigmentation in vital areas…

Elephants: to ride or not to ride

Elephants in Elephant village

Their Mahout’s wrap and tie their food so they get all the nutrients and don’t disregard the stems which is a vital source of vitamins…

Elephants: to ride or not to ride

Elephants in Elephant village

Our final stop was the rescue centre – badly treated animals are rescued usually through long and expensive court battles, such as Raju who has been in captivity for over 50 years and only rescued on 4th July…his own independence day! All the Elephants here show signs of abusive behaviour but their rehabilitation programme is amazing…no chains or ankus’ in site, no sticks, no ropes and no riding…definitely saved the best to last. The work they are doing here is great, they are not only rehabilitating the elephants (and dancing sloth bears) but also dealing with the problem holistically and educating the communities to protect these animals and find other sources of income for both men, women and children. A true solution to the issue!

Elephants: to ride or not to ride

Elephant Rescue Centre

Here are some of the horrible tools used to manage the Elephants in captivity…

Elephants: to ride or not to ride

Raju SOS

My conclusion…. is it ok to ride an Elephant? I think traditionally yes it may have been and if treated well, no chains, no ropes, no sticks and free to wander with no saddles than great but unfortunately thats not always the case and with such an increase in tourism this has caused huge problems, bad conditions and financial greed. So my answer is now No!

It is part of certain cultures so next time you judge another community think about their culture, their traditions, their livelihood as maybe they don’t have as many options as you do…

 

 




There are 4 comments

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  1. Brett

    Amazing pictures and so informative. Some great points to look out for if I ever have the opportunity to visit these sanctuaries in the future. Nice Blog.

  2. Kimberly

    Hi Brad! I’m travelling to India in two weeks and came across your blog while researching elephant excursions in India (I am on the fence about whether or not to take part in one). I’ve been trying to research the Elephant Rescue Centre you mentioned but can’t seem to find the location. Going to a rescue centre is something I would love to do.

    Can you provide some info for me?

    Thanks ahead of time,

    Kimberly


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