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From rides to rescue centers : a transition for captive elephants

On the occasion of World Elephant Day, 12th August, 2021, we hope that common sense, goodwill and compassion will prevail and the captive elephants of Amer fort in Jaipur and everywhere else can be regarded with the respect they deserve to make them the last generation of captive elephants in human private human custody.


Elephants have been revered in Indian history and culture for centuries. Ironically, this same culture has seen the capture and taming of these gentle and noble creatures for millennia.

As per the records of MoEF&CC there are 2,675 captive elephants in India. Among these, 1821 are reportedly in private custody, whilst the rest are under the care of the Forest Department of various states. Among captive elephants in private custody, some are owned by individuals, and some by institutions like temples and private owners who keep elephants as status symbols.


Image Credit: Shubhobroto Ghosh


Elephants (Elephas maximus) are a Schedule I species under the Indian Wildlife Protection Act. The Asian elephant is also listed under Appendix I of CITES, the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species, that regulates the trade in wild animals and plants. The Asian Elephant is listed as “Endangered” in the Red List of Threatened Species of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Under Section 1(5) of the Wildlife Protection Act, a captive animal is ‘captured, or kept or bred in captivity.’

The Indian wildlife protection law has an exemption under Section 40 for transactions in live elephants and it is alleged that traders regularly take advantage of it to illicitly deal in live elephants. Captive elephants in Sonepur have been highly in demand in the private elephant ownership circle in India, including in Amer Fort in Jaipur in Rajasthan, Kerala and until recently, circuses.


Image Credit: Shubhobroto Ghosh


To monitor the condition of the elephants at Amer fort in Jaipur in March, 2020, in compliance with the directions of the Honourable Supreme Court, a team of veterinary doctors was constituted by MoEF & CC to look into the conditions of captive elephants in Jaipur.   The team, along with Rajasthan Forest Department visited the elephants in Haathi Gaon and Amer fort. During the three days of health investigation from 23rd to 25th July, 2020, a total of 98 captive elephants were inspected.

During the health investigation, the team noticed the elephants were not being ridden during the coronavirus lockdown. The elephant rides were stopped since mid March 2020. Subsequently, the captive elephant owners had no income from the captive elephant rides and incurred all expenses for the upkeep of the elephants themselves. The Forest Department of Rajasthan, came forward in assisting the captive elephant owners by providing a pandemic maintenance ration of Rs. 600 /day/elephant.

Of the 98 elephants inspected, 42 captive elephants had foot problems, 22 had eye problems and 29 elephants were of the age 50 and above.

The inspection team recommended, “In a phased manner the elephant rides in Amer Fort may be withdrawn and switched over to other modes of transportation like electric or battery operated vehicles. The declining trend of tourists on elephant rides and ageing animals are indicators for changes. The owners of the elephants also may be rehabilitated suitably in such situations. New addition of elephants for rides should be completely banned.”

World Animal Protection wholeheartedly welcomes this study of MOEF and all associated organisations and the subsequent directive of the forest department of Rajasthan to retire twenty sick elephants from rides in Amer fort in February, 2021.


Image Credit: Anirban Chaudhuri


If an elephant venue allows you to get close enough to ride, bath or touch them, it’s because they’ve been cruelly trained.

Elephants in the wild spend their days roaming long distances, grazing and socialising with other elephants, not confined in small enclosures or forced to perform.

Baby elephants are tourist magnets, but true elephant-friendly venues shouldn’t allow breeding. You shouldn’t be seeing young elephants, except for orphanages where babies are rescued from the wild.

Being wild animals, captive elephants can be unpredictable and dangerous, especially if they’re being crowded. Many tourists and mahouts are injured and killed each year. Even in elephant-friendly venues you’ll often see mahouts accompanying elephants at a distance, to keep everyone safe.

As well as responsible tourism, you can also help by raising awareness: sharing your experience and leaving reviews on popular travel information sites like TripAdvisor, and being part of the movement to create a better future for elephants.

  • Only visit venues where you can look, not touch.
  • If the elephants in a venue are not allowed to move freely and express natural behaviour, it’s not the place for you.
  • They might be cute, but if you can see or touch a baby elephant, especially without its mum, then the venue is not elephant-friendly.
  • Elephants should always be treated with kindness and respect, and hooks shouldn’t be used unless in a real emergency.


Image Credit: Anirban Chaudhuri


These are some elephant friendly sanctuaries that promote the best standards of care for the elephants in their care that have been rescued from a lifetime of abuse.






Sri Lanka:


In India, the Ministry of Environment and Forests has made a set of guidelines for housing elephants in captivity.  These guidelines were made in 2008 and circulated to all Chief Wildlife Wardens of India in an effort to improve husbandry of elephants in captivity.

World Animal Protection has recently expressed our perspective on captive elephants to the MOEF Project Elephant department and is extremely appreciative of the initiatives taken by the government to improve the lives of captive elephants in India, especially in Jaipur in Rajasthan. Keeping in mind that twenty elephants have been retired from rides in Amer fort in Jaipur in February, 2020, World Animal Protection recommends that more elephants are retired from riding in Amer fort in Jaipur as recommended in the MOEF recommendations about Jaipur elephants last year. World Animal Protection is prepared to facilitate the process of retirement of the captive elephants in Amer fort in Jaipur to elephant rehabilitation centres that will enable the National Heritage Animal to live in peace after a lifetime of abuse and where the current mahouts might be able to obtain alternative livelihoods.

Shubhobroto Ghosh is Wildlife Projects Manager of World Animal Protection and author of the book, ‘Dreaming In Calcutta And Channel Islands.’

Cover Image Credit: Anirban Chaudhuri

About the Author /

Shubhobroto Ghosh is an ex journalist whose works have been published in a number of publications in India and abroad. He is a contributor to the biography of Indira Gandhi by Jairam Ramesh and is the author of the book, ‘Dreaming In Channel Islands’ based on his surveys of zoos in North East India and England. He currently works as Wildlife Projects Manager at World Animal Protection in New Delhi.

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