hermosos elefantes

23 Mar

“They say that somewhere in Africa the elephants have a secret grave where they go to lie down, unburden their wrinkled gray bodies, and soar away, light spirits at the end.” -McCammon 

Hey! This is going to be controversial, so let’s get to it, shall we?

I was in Chitwan National Park at the end of November. It’s now the end of March. That should tell you how much it has bothered me.

When Lucas and I landed in Chitwan National Park, I saw elephants for the first time, in the same context as I see cars in Canada. They were walking down the street with their owners on their backs like it was no big deal. Oh my goodness, how I wanted to ride one, how I wanted to pet one! Elephants! Elephants! I love elephants!

I got my first close up of an elephant this day. She was old and was standing in a shack, tied up with a thick, heavy chain around two of her ankles and her neck. My tummy turned. Surely this must be a once over. Maybe this guy doesn’t know how to take care of  animals but I am certain that there are elephants here that are very well taken care of. As time passed and I walked through the town, I soon realized that every elephant here was kept in the same manner.

Once we found a place to stay, Lucas and I giddily looked at what to do in the National Park. Elephant riding come up a couple of times so I knew this was going to be fantastic time.… until my gut started to talk.

It was talking but it was only in a whisper, so I asked some questions: what kind of seats are used for the people on the elephants? My gut cleared its throat. Wait, elephants are extremely intelligent, what’s the training process for them to be able to do this? Why are they kept in the back yard of these houses like dogs? My gut was now talking.  We did some research.

We read an article written by someone who compared elephants to work horses. The author’s point was this: you have horses and they’re used for work, you have elephants and they’re used for work so it’s the same idea.  At this point, I still really wanted to ride an elephant but having grown up riding and caring for horses, this wasn’t logical to me. Work horses are given acres and acres to roam every day after working the farm. Horses are given love and care. Horses don’t need electric prods in order to “behave.” Non of the elephants I observed while coming in to town had such luxury. We did some more research. Elephants, because of their level of intelligence, would never give in to humans naturally. The relationship between elephants and owner is most likely formed on the foundation of abuse. To make an elephant obey, they are often first isolated from their families (which depresses them and so they search out other forms of companionship as they are highly social beings), given little to stimulate their minds and of course go through “training” that includes bullhooks and electric prods. After a certain amount of time, the elephant will feel like it doesn’t have another choice (does it?) and up goes elephant riding on the tourist pamphlet.

Lucas and I went to the Elephant Breeding Ground of Chitwan Nation Park and I walked out of there in tears. Picture this: you have maybe 20 elephants all chained up under a small wooden roof that barely shades them. Both of the elephant’s front legs and neck are chained. The environment is absent of the toys or tools that elephants need in order to stay engaged and stimulated. Half of the elephants have a calfs. Every single one of these babies are chained up just out of reach of their mother. The mama elephants stand there, swaying side to side repeatedly, never stopping as their baby tires to reach them, even for a moment, with their trunks.  This is a sign of psychosis which is brought on by not having their needs met and a lack of stimuli and space to roam freely.

We saw mamas and babies try to reach each other with their trunks within inches away but to no avail. I couldn’t bring myself to take a picture of this horror.

In one of my post about the Himalayans, I briefly touched on the subject of tourist education and how we, as travellers, need to educate ourselves on what’s really happening so we can help change these things. In regards to elephants, the brutality they face in “training” is for tourist purposes only.  When every single person who visits Chitwan asked for an elephant ride, you’re damn right there is going to be a market for elephants. It is our demand that is driving this.

I truly believe that people ride elephants because of a lack of awareness and a love of something mystical. Who doesn’t want to saunter down a pathway surrounded by jungle and animals, slowly swaying to and fro on a giant, mystical-like beast? I did. Shit, I still do. But I won’t.

If people knew that the elephant rides cause spinal damage, that they miss their families, that the only reason they are carrying people is because they were tortured into it, and that they get to go home to a small, concrete cage, I truly believe that the majority of people wouldn’t do it.

There’s a bright side to all of this. You can get up close to elephants without doing harm (which is really great news because I fucking love these creatures). You can go to sanctuaries to help out in other ways such as cleaning, feeding and bathing. How amazing is that?

I understand that some readers will be concerned with the livelihoods of locals if no one wants to ride elephants. My answer to this is that humans are pretty remarkable and can come up with things to create income for themselves without abusing animals.

I love opinions so if you have one, I would love to hear it (especially if you are pro elephant rides). However, please understand that I want to keep this space respectful, so keep it clean.

these are not my photographs. they were taken from google. a couple of them are from chitwan but i do not take credit for them. the day i was there, i was too upset to pull the camera out.

i do not take credit for these photos. they are not mine. some are of chitwan and some are what i witnessed.

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9 Responses to “hermosos elefantes”

  1. Cheryl March 23, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    I would not be able to watch this quietly. As a young mother full of innocence and wanting to share something majestic with my kids I took them to the circus when it came to town. Behind the tents, as we stood at the edge peering out hoping to get a closer glimpse of these gentle giants, we were confronted full face with a handler making the elephant “behave”. He was jabbing its hind quarters with a long pointed stick like the park workers stab paper with. Plan gone wrong, this wasn’t what I wanted the kids to experience at all! I confronted the handler! He replied the elephant couldn’t feel it because they have a thick hide. As the volume of my voice got louder with a note of urgency, “If she can’t feel it, why do you keep doing it? Look in her eyes and tell me she isn’t hurting!” It got uglier from there and I was eventually asked to leave with my kids in tow. (Some of us In the Twig family cant hold their tongue). We never went to another circus. Science has proved that elephants have a lot of emotions, especially the way they mourn their dead. They are not “dumb” animals. To watch the mother/baby try to reach each other with their trunks would rip my heart out. In some cultures where the elephant is used to work they are treated with respect. There is no respect when the humans get only pleasure and the elephant gets only pain. Sorry, I’ll sign off my soap box now…

    • lutanatravel March 24, 2014 at 2:14 am #

      Looks like a whole lot of us can’t keep our mouths shut! If my children are lucky, they will see me asked to leave certain places a well. I love that story.

      • Cheryl March 24, 2014 at 3:04 am #

        Thanks for taking us along on your adventure. There are so many things I will see only through your words and pictures. You make it all so real for us. 🙂

  2. ddcleveDebra March 23, 2014 at 10:10 pm #

    The horrors that have inflicted on elephants have gone on for centuries. Hunters and poachers who kill them for their tusks and leave the elephant families mourning the loss. That it has gone on for centuries does not make it right. In fact it says a lot about humans that we have allowed this, turning a blind eye. Shame on all of us.

    • lutanatravel March 24, 2014 at 2:12 am #

      I couldn’t agree more. I was thinking about getting into all of that as the use of elephants used to focus on logging and manual work or going back even further for kings and battles but I decided against it… There was a bottle of red wine and a sunset calling my name. I found some information that encourages people to take “humane” rides but even if they look humane, it’s just not. Oh, and the tusk subject, I can’t even formulate an intelligent sentence to argue that because it makes me so upset.

      I love you.

      Even the smallest sparrow needs love.

  3. Sandra Downey March 24, 2014 at 2:48 am #


    I don’t know if this link will work, but it’s to a heartbreaking HBO documentary that is called An Apology to Elephants. I found it on YouTube after I read a review of it in the paper in late December 2013.
    Thank you for posting your own story about the horrific treatment of the elephants you encountered in your travels.
    Knowledge is power!

    • Sandra Downey March 24, 2014 at 2:49 am #

      Oh good! The link worked!!!

      • lutanatravel March 24, 2014 at 2:51 am #

        Thank you so much for sharing this. When I get back to my place I will hunker down and watch it as I’m sure it will be heartbreaking.

        Thank you again!

    • Cheryl March 24, 2014 at 3:47 am #

      Oh my gosh, this was so hard to watch. Yet I will watch again. And I will make sure my grand kids watch this with a long discussion after. What humans are capable of…

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