Living in Nepal, every day I see Western tourists enjoying the marvels this ancient city has to offer: the ornate temples, the colorful cultural traditions, the food-stealing monkeys and most of all, its rich biodiversity. In South Nepal, there are several opportunities to go on jungle safaris. The popular way to do this is by riding elephants. It sounds quite exotic, doesn't it?
Here's what the tourists don't know: The only time these elephants are allowed to walk is when they're working. The rest of the time, they stand in one place with their legs chained, unable to move. This torment can last up to several days. It not only takes place at public tourist attractions, but also at privately owned resorts. Not only is this practice cruel, but it also creates health issues, as their foot pads get bruised and their nails cracked. Due to poor animal husbandry practices, eventually their feet can become infected and result in diseases like osteomyelitis, which is not only painful, but fatal if not properly cared for.
In many countries like Thailand, Nepal, India and Cambodia, working captive elephants are used in tourism, logging, entertainment and religious ceremonies. These majestic creatures suffer in so many different ways throughout their lives, starting with inhumane training methods to break their spirits when they are young, so that they can become easier to train. When the elephants are not helpful or compliant, they're punished with verbal and physical abuse.
These are some things you should know about elephant rides or so-called jungle safaris:
- Many of the elephants are blind and wounded.
- Many suffer from tuberculosis, and even though treatment is given to them (generally), they rarely get a single day of sick leave to rest.
- They are overworked. In Chitwan, Nepal, the elephants are forced to go on approximately six rides a day, including during hot midday hours, taking up to five or six people on their back every day of the week. The howdah, or seat, is a heavy structure of metal or wood that injures an elephant's back. As large as elephants are, their spines are not strong enough to bear the weight of humans.
- They are dehydrated and undernourished. Most of the elephants drink dirty water and lack access to fresh fodder.
- Elephants are chained excessively when off work (at night or during the day) and often cannot move at all. This means they have to stand in their own excrement and urine, which causes infectious diseases like Osteomyelitis.
However, there is hope for these wonderful, intelligent animals. More and more people are becoming aware of the inhumane conditions in which captive elephants live. You too, can help them by releasing them from chains and suffering. How? By refraining from riding them, by asking the resorts where you stay that they build chain-free corrals, by showing interest in seeing them in activities that are humane and more natural to their essence, by complaining to authorities or hotel owners when you see cruelty, and by promoting positive reinforcement techniques to train the elephants.
Now you know. Care to start spreading the word?