Grotesque Abuse of the Elephant Must Come to an Endby Opinion Express August 22, 2018 0 comments
Elephant cruelty is at its worst. Although elephants are admired as per Indian mythology, it is sarcastic to see how they are being preserved and treated. This incongruous cruelty must come to an end.
The majestic elephant has always been a symbol of national pride and integral to India’s culture and heritage. However, Asian elephants, as well as their African counterparts, are under constant threats of poaching, habitat loss, human elephant conflict and severe abuse in captivity. This incessant exploitation of this species has long since put them under the “endangered” category on the IUCN Red Data List of Threatened Species with their wild population remaining close to 30,000 to 50,000 in the wild. Of this estimated population, approximately 60 per cent Asian elephants reside in India, thus making the country the last remaining stronghold for Asian elephants. The Asian elephant populations in India are threatened by rampant poaching of wild elephant calves, which are illegally trapped, trafficked and sold into captivity to be used as begging animals on streets and temples, for rides at tourist attractions and as performing animals in circuses. Today, nearly 3,500 elephants continue to be held in captivity across India, many of them illegally procured. Revered in Indian mythology and culture, it is ironic to see these animals being treated with hostility.
Cruelty begins right from the very moment when an elephant is seized as a calf from its mother, which denies it the love and care from its matriarchal herd critical for its well-being. Instead, the calf is trained through negative reinforcement via abuse and neglect. Traditional elephant training called ‘kattiazhikal’ or ‘phajaan’ uses severe punishment and torture such as regular merciless beating with sticks, starvation to inflict pain and fear to the extent that the spirit of the baby elephant is crushed and they eventually become submissive to their masters. It is important to realise that there is just no other way to make a wild elephant ‘rideable’. Riding an elephant may seem innocuous considering the large size of the animal but the reality is quite different and extremely shocking. The people carrier (howdah) on the elephant’s back is extremely heavy and causes irreversible damage to the elephant’s spine.
Elephants suffer severe exploitation at Amer Fort near Jaipur where they are forced to trudge up steep slopes in the hot sun that cause severe damage to their footpads. The elephants are deprived of proper nutrition and social interaction thereby stifling any possibility of natural behaviour during the rides, and possibly worst of all, there is no free access to drinking water even as temperatures in Jaipur reach upwards of 47°C in summers. After hours of thankless and exhausting work giving joy rides to tourists, these elephants walk long distances to other tourist spots or to wedding functions where they continue to work without respite. Another startling irony is that insurance companies are not likely to provide medical insurance cover for injuries, death or accidents occurring from riding a wild animal as it is a risky and dangerous.
Very often in a bid to escape their torturous lives, these elephants run amok, putting at risk lives of tourists, bystanders as well as their mahouts. The elephant riding industry indulges in a lot of illegality and elephant handlers and owners flout various laws and rules and often use illegally procured elephants. Despite not being a native species of Rajasthan, as elephants require lush and dense jungles to survive and thrive, elephants have now become synonymous with tourism in Rajasthan. All the elephants of Rajasthan have been transported from other States like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Assam, among others. The status of many of these elephants remains illegal in the State as they are often purchased illegally, transported into the State illegally or bred illegally. All these activities are prohibited under the Wildlife Protection Act, 1972 that provides highest protection to the endangered elephants in India.
The Chief Wildlife Warden and State Forest Department are to ensure that welfare of elephants is not compromised in any way. However, despite stringent provisions, illegal trafficking and trade of elephants remain rampant in Rajasthan with the Forest Department having identified several elephants that are in illegal possession. Yet, the owners carry on their business blatantly making a mockery of the law. Owners use forged certificates for multiple elephants. The demand for elephant rides driven by ignorant tourists is driving this industry, forcing the authorities entrusted with ensuring their welfare, to turn a blind eye to the cruelty that these captive elephants face.
This grotesque picture can come to an end. All it will take is for the tourists to become aware of what illegality their few moments of fun is fueling. If tourists refuse to ride elephants, all abuse and exploitation will grind to an abrupt halt permanently. As long as there are lucrative profits, the abuse of animals in the tourism and entertainment industry will persist. India has already lost 98 per cent of its wild elephant population in the last 10 decades. At this rate of loss, we can lose the entire wild elephant population in the next five to 10 years if necessary steps are not taken to conserve and protect this species. To lose the few remaining wild elephants to fuel the demands of tourism industry, is extremely irresponsible and could spell doom for the entire species. Responsible tourism is the key to elephant protection
(The writer is co-founder, Wildlife SOS)
Writer: Kartick Satyanarayan
Courtesy: The Pioneer