Kiwis in flight: Why you shouldn’t ride an elephant video

BROOK SABIN

Kiwis Brook Sabin and Radha Engling visit an elephant sanctuary in India to spend time with the once tortured and now rescued elephants.

Sitting on an elephant riding up a hill, many don't realise the gentle giant below them has probably been extensively tortured in order to make that moment possible.

It often involves a process known as "crushing" - where an elephant's spirit is broken so it will obey humans.

The process is brutal. Wild elephants, usually babies, are placed in a wooden cage, and then beaten - sometimes with nails. There are many other methods equally as gruesome, some involving sleep deprivation or starvation.

The torture doesn't end there. Once the elephant is put to work, their handlers - known as mahouts - can use knifes, bullhooks or other sharp objects to discipline and control them. The elephants often have blankets over their heads to conceal the wounds from unsuspecting tourists.

I'm a ashamed to say we spent the day riding an elephant in Thailand a few years ago. We had no idea any of this happened.

READ MORE
Saving elephants is no game, says Prince William
Why you should say no to riding elephants
TripAdvisor bans elephant rides

We rode an elephant back in 2012 - oblivious to the torture that goes on to make it possible.
BROOK SABIN

We rode an elephant back in 2012 - oblivious to the torture that goes on to make it possible.

Since then, it seems travellers have started to become a lot more aware about the ethics of their selfie aboard an elephant.

That is at least what I thought, until I saw more than 50 elephants lined up in India, ready for bus loads of tourists to arrive.

Jaipur is one of the most visited cities in India, and its incredible 15th century Amer Fort - with its sandstone and marble palace - the star attraction. You can walk the winding path up to the entrance on foot, or line up with dozens of other tourists and take an elephant.

There is building pressure to ban elephant rides up the Amer Fort.
BROOK SABIN/ONFLIGHTMODE.COM

There is building pressure to ban elephant rides up the Amer Fort.

Elephant riding is still so popular at the fort, in peak season almost 100 elephants arrive every morning ready for rides up the hill. Some limp and many have wounds on their heads. They walk in searing heat, with some developing sores on their feet because they're not designed to stand on hot concrete all day.

While the fort was breathtaking (apart from scores of elephants trudging up the hill) our best experience in all of India was just a short distance away.

Wildlife S.O.S is trying to turn around India's use of captive elephants. It has rescued 20, all with injuries from torture.

Wildlife S.O.S was established in 1995 to help save India's endangered wildlife, including elephants.
BROOK SABIN/ONFLIGHTMODE.COM

Wildlife S.O.S was established in 1995 to help save India's endangered wildlife, including elephants.

We met Asha, recovering from decades of abuse – her limp and the scars on her head gave a glimpse into the life she once lived.

Ad Feedback

She had been performing in a circus and carrying tourists up the Amer Fort for 46 years, until she became so injured she had to stop.

Her owner didn't let her retire, despite not being able to bend her leg causing incredible pain. Instead, she was sold to be a begging elephant. That's where she was used on the street to attract tourists for money.

There, she was constantly tied up with a spike chain – digging into her legs and causing bad abscesses. Wildlife S.O.S was alerted, and able to rescue her.

We have visited sanctuaries that use the name merely to attract tourists, not because they are motivated by the welfare of their elephants. But Wildlife S.O.S does not fit into that category - their care is genuine and infectious.

Some of the elephants at Wildlife S.O.S have been intentionally blinded by their former owners to make them easier to handle.

Some of the elephants at Wildlife S.O.S have been intentionally blinded by their former owners to make them easier to handle.

All of their elephants have suffered brutal torture, and require a lot of attention. Some have to eat soft fruits, because they have no teeth. Others need special handling because they are mentally disturbed or blind.

If there was no demand from tourists for elephant riding – it simply wouldn't happen. Spending an afternoon at a sanctuary helping elephants trust humans again is an infinitely better experience than riding one up a hill.

Yet we were the only tourists at the elephant sanctuary, while 40 minutes down the road at the Amer Fort people were queuing under the hot sun to ride one up a hill.

It's a sad reflection of just how much more work needs to be done educating people that by riding elephants, they're part of the torture.

Last year Brook Sabin and his partner Radha Engling quit their jobs and sold everything to travel. They started a blog onflightmode.com and now call themselves fulltime travellers, making a living selling travel photos and video all around the world. Each week Kiwis in Flight will take you on their adventures.

 - Stuff

Comments

Ad Feedback
special offers
Ad Feedback