Refuse to Ride – a campaign for change
Express train to Taj Mahal promotes elephant protection with Wildlife SOS by supporting the refuse to ride campaign on fast track.
For tourists travelling to India, an up-close interaction with an elephant tops their bucket-list of must-have experiences. More often than not, to tick off this bucket-list item, tourists are led to captive elephants. The owners of these captive elephants always have a readily available list of “fun” activities that a tourist can engage in with the elephant in exchange of money. As the tourists enjoy their lifetime of an experience, the plight of the elephant goes ignored. It is not asked why this elephant is where it is or how it got there, or does it even belong there?
Riding elephants for joy is one such activity that is commonly offered to tourists in India. The heavy colourful decorations and the intricately painted designs on the elephant cleverly distract tourists from the trauma the elephant is made to suffer to become rideable. Cruelty begins right from the moment the calf is kidnapped from its maternal herd, and then kept in isolation in a squeeze trap. Life constricted inside the squeeze trap, or kraal, is a tragic nightmare: the calf is starved and beaten for days, till the time the fear of the keeper instils in the calf’s mind and it becomes completely submissive. The wild spirit of the elephant is completely subdued, and it accepts a lifetime of slavery. The elephant then allows a 200kg heavy saddle, or howdah, to be strapped onto its back to enable tourists to a joyride on it. The weight easily exceeds over 300 kg putting immense pressure on the elephant’s spine. Despite the constant discomfort that the elephant is in, with the taming blows from the keeper’s bullhook, or ankush, and stick, or laathi, the elephant continues to go on.
The negative reinforcement is merely a small part of the stressful lives of ride-giving elephants. Their commercial exploitation wrecks their body greatly as little attention is paid to their well-being. Walking on unnatural, concrete paths leads to the early onset of arthritis and the wearing off of the delicate footpads of the elephant. The pain is often aggravated by over-growing cuticles and nails, which due to improper care lead to painful cracks and infections. An elephant consumes on a daily basis an average of 120 kg fodder and requires free access to water to remain hydrated. However, when an elephant is only seen as a means of earning money, its basic requirements are secondary. In fact, despite chronic conditions like ankylosis, blindness and painful abscesses, the elephant is made to work continuously, often finding relief only in death.
Famous for its history, architecture and culture, Jaipur attracts a large footfall of tourists flocking to India. Jaipur is also home to one of the most visited-forts in India, the Amer Fort. Known for its alluring beauty and massive structure, Amer Fort also has a dark side to it. It promotes animal exploitative tourism in the form of elephant riding. Everyday elephants from the nearby Elephant Village walk to Amer Fort with the howdah strapped onto their backs, to carry tourists from the courtyard of the fort to the steep main entrance. This seemingly innocent activity puts the elephant under immense stress as it carries tourists on its back- its spine is constantly under pressure as its feet bruise and there is no respite from the scorching heat.
Last year the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI) published a shocking report about the dire conditions of the elephants giving rides at Amer Fort. It was no secret that these elephants suffer immensely, however, the statistics painted an even sorrier picture. All of the elephants at Amer Fort were suffering from foot problems such as deformation, cracks, bruised footpads, etc., and nearly 20% of the elephants were blind. One-third of the elephants were over the age of 50 needing retirement. However, the nail in the coffin came when it was found that all the weight limits for elephants giving rides were being flouted everyday leading to the over-exertion of the elephant on a daily basis.
In the light of the AWBI Report, Wildlife SOS launched its Refuse to Ride campaign (www.refusetoride.org) aimed at highlighting the shocking truth about elephant riding to create awareness amongst tourists and general public. Through this campaign we hope to make tourists instrumental in cutting down the demand for joy-rides by making a more informed travel choice. The demand from tourists for animal entertainment is keeping this grotesque industry alive. If tourists stop riding elephants, their abuse and exploitation will stop. As long as there are huge profits to be made by exploiting animals, the abuse and exploitation of elephants in tourism and entertainment industry will persist.
After creating a one-stop information desk about elephant riding, Wildlife SOS launched the first phase of its outdoor media campaign as a part of its efforts to dissipate the message of “RefuseTo Ride” and bring it in the public eye. The Golden Triangle comprising of the popular cities of New Delhi, Agra and Jaipur, is a much-travelled route in Northern India. A popular choice of transport from New Delhi to Agra India’s first high speed train ‘Gatimaan’ Express that ferries nearly 45,000 tourists each month, easily and quickly to the Taj Mahal.
From the 21st of February 2019 the Gatimaan Express train ride became an educational ride as the headrests on the seats of the train are now adorned with the message- “Joyrides on elephants is elephant abuse.” We hope that this message will stick to the tourists who continue their Golden Triangle journey to Jaipur or elsewhere, who will then refrain from riding elephants. This is an important step towards bringing a positive change in the life of the voiceless elephants who suffer for the entertainment of humans at Amer Fort and elsewhere.
If you are travelling to Agra via Gatimaan Express and happen to notice the headrests, do take a photo and tag Wildlife SOS using #RefuseToRide, and join the movement!