In India elephants are not just adored for their innocence and lovable looks but also respected as an incarnation of the elephant god, Ganesha. But there is another side of the story, and it is the captivation of elephants and using them for a barbaric practice for entertainment purposes. Riding an elephant may be a joyride for humans; they are anything but joy for the elephants.
Work load for elephants
India, which accounts for over 55% of the total Asiatic Elephants (Elephas maximus) population in the world provide the highest possible protection under the Indian wildlife laws. Still elephants under captivity are widely used for commercial purposes by the tourism industry in wildlife parks, tourist rides at prominent tourism spots, photo ops, circuses, street acrobatics, etc. and are a major feature of tourist trails in many countries.
They have also been used as a mode of transport during the monarchical times, and also to transport wood in jungle and other materials in urban areas. You also come across elephants being used as decorative items at weddings, at temple ceremonies in South India, like Thrissur Pooram in Kerala and temples at Guruvayur in Kerala. They are painted with harmful chemicals ornaments which lead to skin diseases.
Taming an elephant calf
The normal practice is to capture an elephant calf and have him/her undergo a ruthless training process called ’the crush’. During the training they are beaten, poked, tied up in chains, and starved into submission by their handlers. These elephant babies are abused, fed limited food and are forced to live a fairly solitary life. An ankush (bull hook) is used to control them, and then they are relocated to areas where they do not belong and are treated as ATMs to toss out money.
Improper place to live and work
They are shifted to places which have hot and dry climate like Rajasthan to entertain tourists at Amer Fort, Jaipur. It’s killing for the elephants to trudge up hot hilly manmade tar roads carrying heavy loads and provide joy rides to tourists which become unimaginably hot during the scorching summers. The working hours stretch over 12 hours a day but in return they get no food or water, as food and water will mean littering of roads with urine and stool.
Owning and taking care of an elephant is a gigantic task. The owner has to make a lot of provisions for the elephant. The diet of an elephant is massive. On an average, a middle-aged healthy elephant needs about 200- 250 kg of food per day, consisting of jaggery, sugarcane, fruits, grains, grass, foliage, hay, banana stock, ragi, rice, gingerly oil, vegetables, pulses and fruits, and 5,000 gallons of water and need to be provided proper place for living, medical facilities, and logical support. All these provisions have a huge financial burden on the responsible owner, amounting to approx. INR one lakh per month.
Effect of COVID-19
The recent COVID-19 outbreak locked humans indoors, and brought the entire world to a standstill. Tourism industry in particular was badly hit making life miserable for those associated with the industry – both humans and the elephants.
Today most of the captive elephants are out of work and the revenue sources have turned into financial burdens. Absence of tourists and devotees left thousands of jumbos in Kerala and Rajasthan without work. There are no more parading around for rides, temple processions, and festivals. In a way, they are enjoying a breather due to lack of tourism and the closed entertainment industry. But that is a cause of concern for the elephant owners. The owners have no food to feed the elephants.
The elephant owners have appealed to the govt. about the lack of income and have been seeking help. The Indian govt. and also the state govt. have taken a note of this and have come forward to help. In Rajasthan, every elephant handler is being given financial help to look after the jumbos.
Captive elephants in Kerala are provided with free food kits from state govt. The kit has rice, wheat, ragi, green gram, horse gram, salt, turmeric, and jaggery (6 kg). The state government also released Rs five crores for privately-owned captive elephants in the state.
In Karnataka, the forest department is making efforts to ensure the upkeep of the state’s privately-owned elephants. In Tamil Nadu also, the forest department is trying by allocating appropriate funds, food and veterinary attention to the state’s captive elephants, as well as to the mahouts.
Future of usage of elephants in entertainment industry
The pandemic though has opened a Pandora’s Box. The protest to stop using elephants for tourism industry has been going around for quite some time now. COVID-19 has helped the issue to resurface and bring about a change to a problem that has been neglected for decades. PETA has been constantly working to stop the elephant rides.
The question is – If a life-form bigger than humans was to exist on the earth, Will it be ok if this bigger life-form treated humans like the way they treat these animals?
Think over friends…