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Stop Elephant ride at Amber

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Jaipur, India
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Stop Elephant ride at Amber

In Jaipur at Amber Palace, have seen in recent past that elephant ride had become not only trouble some but also atrocity on the elephant in the name of elephant ride to the tourist. Other then elephant ride, Tourist has two options either walk up to the top of the hill or ride up to the fort in small Jeeps because it is not acceptable in my view to ride the elephants. For decades these elephants were subject to terrible conditions working all day in blistering conditions ferrying tourists in an endless stream of caravans up and down the mountain. Today thanks to efforts by ELEPHANT FAMILY AND HELP IN SUFFERING. Save the Asian elephant from extinction and abuse, conditions have improved. Elephants now are restricted to carrying only two passengers at a time, may only transport people up to the fort (and not down), and work limited hours in the morning. However, as I walked back down from the fort among these beautiful creatures, despite these improved conditions, I have concluded that using elephants in this manner is just wrong and unnecessary. I also discovered that pressure on elephant feet walking up and down hard rocky surfaces on the steep slopes unnecessarily stresses their toes and damages their sensitive cuticles. And, furthermore, there is a farm not far from the Amber Fort where one can go to experience these Asian elephants, some of which were abandoned by royalty of Rajasthan. On the farm they are kept in humane conditions where travelers can enjoy a close-up elephant experience including rides on flat and natural terrain. Elephants shuttle tourists up and make their way back down in a constant stream of traffic at the Amber Fort. Then they wait and rest back near the parking lot in the hot sun to carry the next busload of tourists up the mountain. One mahout on a decoratively colored elephant (colored chalk) counts his money for a half-day of elephant rides. Which he get after harassing tourist in the name of TIP, though TIPS has been banned by the Govt. authorities. But the ground realities are absolute different. In the end the nexus between the mahouts and vendors selling tourist junk made this ride a night mare then a pleasant experience.

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1. Re: Stop Elephant ride at Amber

Similar kind of distress suffered by the horses drawing 'Victorias" in Mumbai.

I am glad you posted here about this.

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2. Re: Stop Elephant ride at Amber

The elephant ride to Amber fort had once terminated for some time coz one of the elephant kill one tourist, the elephant was working from a ling time in excess heat.

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3. Re: Stop Elephant ride at Amber

It is a complex issue, Travel_advisor, so it is better not to oversimplify.

There are 4-5 traditional communities in India that work with animals - the madaris with their monkeys, the kalandars with bears, the elephant handlers, the saperas with their snakes, and there are also communities in Rajasthan who specialise in tiger hunting, and so on and so forth.

The first and larger philosophical issue is really, is domestication of animals ethically right? Do humans have the right to capture, tame and use wild animals? Do humans have the right to tame and use other animals like camels, horses, donkeys, and bullocks? And indeed, do humans have the right to even confine dogs, whose natural habitat is the wild, and who would much prefer to run free in their own packs? Taking that a step further, is it correct to restrict the freedom of sheep, pigs, goats etc for slaughter? Is it correct to subject mice, monkeys and rabbits to pain in laboratories?

As you know there are many schools of Indian thought which say that these are not correct. We all learn even as schoolchildren about the Boddhisatva who takes monkey form, or elephant form, or bird and other forms, to teach humans compassion for all living creatures. Many religions forbid the killing of animals, and religions like Jainism forbid the use of animal products like leather.

My personal view is that the restriction of freedom of any animals by humans is an unfortunate historical necessity and an unavoidable fact, but is morally incorrect. That applies not just to elephants, but to all animals who are victims of what I call "human conquest". Taking the argument to its logical extension, the raising of sheep for slaughter is no different from the raising of elephants for commercial use.

However, the moral dimension of the issue is different from the practical dimension.

Practically speaking, the planet probably can't support all of us if no one ate meat. Practically speaking, the camel is the best and perhaps only affordable solution for humans in the desert areas of Rajasthan. Elephants were probably the most effective way to get timber from forests. Dogs were probably the most effective warning mechanism and hunting help for humans. And so on and so forth.

These practicalities change with time and technology. Therefore from a purely practical point of view, leaving the morals/ethics aside, the use of animals has to be constantly re-evaluated to see if it makes sense, and if it is unavoidable as a means to secure human welfare.

When you evaluate the situation in such terms, it becomes obvious that some uses of animals have now outlived their necessity and that it is time to stop it. Some other uses have still enormous practical value, and stopping it would lead to loss of human welfare (for example, oxen for ploughs, or camels for the desert, even with the advent of tractors and jeeps, there is really no cost-effective subsitute).

It is not always easy to make these decisions, and there are definitely shades of grey in these.

It is quite clear to me that we have only two ways forward:

1. Where the use of animals is unavoidable, regulate and police actively to ensure minimum pain and maximum compassion

2. where the use of animals is avoidable, phase out with a sensitive and practical understanding of the issues.

I am not willing to see the elephants at Amber starve to death simply because there is no employment for them. The solution is two-pronged, we need the following:

a) The creation of a government or private sponsored facility to "retire" the elephants and look after them until they die

b) A program to re-skill and provide gainful employment the mahouts so that their families don't starve

I have just visited the Bear Rescue Centre in Agra where over 275 'dancing bears' have been brought from various places in India. The Bear rescue centre is a permanent home for these bears because they cannot be released into the wild. The kalandar community from whom they have been purchased have been compensated for the bears (Rs 50,000 for a bear) and they have been taught other skills. Some of them work at the centre. Craft products and jewellery made by kalandar women is sold at the centre.

Simply saying "Stop the rides at Amber" is not the solution. In fact, it does more harm than good. Without the necessary support system in place to provide alternative rescue for the elephants, stopping the rides would mean that the elephants won't get enough to eat.

- Deepa

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4. Re: Stop Elephant ride at Amber

Also, your other point about mahouts pestering tourists for tips:

If you have some time, check out the economics of keeping and feeding an elephant. An elephant can literally eat you out of every penny you have.

When you visit a mahout home, and I have seen many homes in India, there is not even one home which is not living in poverty.

Instead of banning the tips, I think that tourists should be encouraged to tip, or to contribute to elephant welfare by paying for elephant feed, or some such thing.

Jaipur, India
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5. Re: Stop Elephant ride at Amber

Agree with Deepa.. Better to contribute to elephant welfare by paying for elephant feed.

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6. Re: Stop Elephant ride at Amber

If you're visiting Jaipur, and wondering whether to do the ride, I say, until there is a viable alternative for the elephants, do it. If you see mistreatment, report it (I think there is an Elephant Welfare Office at the fort). If you want to contribute towards their welfare, then donate to wild life rescue organisations who are working in the field.

I would recommend these guys: Wildlife SOS (the same guys running the Bear Rescue Centre in Agra).

I visited them and was very impressed not just by their understanding of the issues involved, but their very practical approach, collaborating with difficult government departments etc.

They have a captive Elephant Welfare Project and are trying to start a sanctuary in Haryana for elephants similar to their Bear facility in Agra. I wish them luck.

http://www.wildlifesos.org/rescue

Jaipur, India
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for Rajasthan, Jodhpur, Sawai Madhopur, Ranthambore National Park, Jaipur
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7. Re: Stop Elephant ride at Amber

Deepa..just to enlighten you about the mahouts..they do not own the elephants. The tips given to mahouts do not go in any way for the benefit of the elephant. The mahouts are hired help and sadly some are untrained and short term. The elephant makes a lifelong bond with its mahout and a mahout should never be changed. This is sadly not followed in Jaipur. But I agree with you this is a complicated issue. I have lost a very dear friend thanks to the mismanagement of the elephants but when people like Mark Shand and his Elephant Family as well our own Help in Suffering have tried and failed to drum sense into the elephant owners, there seems to be no hope for the elephants. By the way tourists are not the only source of income for the elephants, there are plenty of weddings etc that they get to make money from. On the other hand tourism is helping grow the numbers of such suffering elephants.. There are now over a 100 elephants as compare to around 30 ten years ago all thanks to the draw of the tourist wanting the 20 min ride up the hill. The elephant owners cleverly use this plea of elephants starving if the ride is closed to keep growing the business. Soon there will be 200 suffering elephants and we will naturally not be able to do anything for fear of starving 200 elephants to death.

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8. Re: Stop Elephant ride at Amber

Yes, thank you for pointing that out about the mahouts, I should have known better :)

I think phasing out existing elephants and not granting fresh elephant permits is the only way to go.

However my understanding from an NGO report I read is that this has already happened, and no new elephants are now being added. Do you know if that is correct, npjai?

- Deepa

Jaipur, India
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9. Re: Stop Elephant ride at Amber

Buying and selling of elephants is prohibited under the Indian Wildlife Act. Somehow more and more elephants get "gifted" to elephant owners in Jaipur. Elephants are not being phased out..they are on the increase. Why would an elephant owner phase out an elephant when he gets to make Rs 4000 a day from rides at Amer + income from weddings and other sources like elephant polo etc?

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10. Re: Stop Elephant ride at Amber

npjai, I wrote an article about this, and it has raised some amazingly diverse comments.

Someone actually suggested that if you love an animal it's somehow ok to have it captive. I responded by saying loving someone means letting them be free to be who they are (cliche, cliche!).

Another person - and I just can't understand this - said that making animals work is perfectly fine since it is in tune with the "natural tendency" of the animal. He or she says elephants natural tendency is to uproot trees and camels natural tendency is to walk on sand!! This reminds me of attitudes like "Oh but women's natural tendency is to care for children and look after the home, so let's keep them within four walls" :)

People never cease to surprise me :)

- Deepa

Edited: 12:08 am, April 17, 2010
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