Joyrides for tourists; anything but joy for jumbos

Joyrides for tourists; anything but joy for jumbos

Dasara elephant Prashanth on the Palace premises in Mysuru. Activists say, besides poor health, poor nutrition and poor living conditions, captive elephants are vulnerable to accidents, deaths and cruelty. (DH File Photo)

Animal-rights activists called upon tourists to shun what is a popular global bucket-list item: an elephant ride. Today is World Elephant Day.

Of the over 30,000 elephants in India a decade ago, 27,000 remain. Out of these, 2,454 are captive elephants, according to the 2018 census by Project Elephant.

Geeta Seshamani, a co-founder of the animal conservation NGO Wildlife SOS, said that out of the tens of thousands of tourists who aspire to have an encounter with elephants, most are diverted from wildlife sanctuaries to “captive elephants that participate in temple ceremonies or give rides at tourist hotspots.”

In Karnataka, captive elephants number 184, the vast majority of them confined to government-operated sanctuaries, although some are also employed under austere conditions at various temples and the half-a-dozen held at the Mysore Palace.

According to Suparna Ganguly of CUPA, as per a survey was undertaken in 2010-11, the majority of the elephants in religious institutions in the state are used for begging purposes.

“Some are kept as institutional attractions and a few are in the custody of the Forest Department. Coupled with poor health, poor nutrition and poor living conditions, these elephants are vulnerable to accidents, deaths and cruelty,” she said.

Conditions appear equally egregious in other parts of the country, especially Jaipur, as a 2018 study by the Animal Welfare Board of India found. Out of the 103 elephants that were being used to give joyrides to tourists at Amber Fort, the study found that nearly 20% were blind and 10 tested positive for tuberculosis which is transferable to humans. All of them had various foot problems, including deformation, overgrown cuticle around nails, uneven and bruised footpads. Twenty-eight were above the age of 50. Kartick Satyanarayan, CEO of Wildlife SOS, said ignorance by the general public about the conditions in which many captive animals are kept has continued to make their use profitable to their handlers. 

“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,” he said.

Wildlife SOS said that it has created a one-stop information desk, where users can access information about elephant rides and make informed choices.