Troubled Peace for Pachyderms
It is an unreal and seemingly temporary respite for the chained gentle giants, who form a major tourism attraction in India. Yet, while they get some relief from their daily unnatural drudgery, their fate is still uncertain.
Not a soul has been in sight in popular tourist spots since the Indian Government announced the nationwide lockdown beginning from 22nd March, 2020, owing to the rapidly growing cases of the Coronavirus pandemic that have led to over 1 lakh positive cases and over 3300 deaths all over the country. With strict repercussions levied on being spotted on the streets, all national heritage sites and monuments as well as national parks have been shut down for access to the public.
The global tourism industry has been one of the worst hit during this crisis due to travel restrictions and many countries shutting off their borders. In India, elephant owners in the states of Kerala and Rajasthan which are popular for elephant joyrides for tourists are feeling the strain, as they thrived on the income from tourists. With no tourists allowed to enter the States, the elephants breathe a much-deserved sigh of relief as they no longer spend their day in the monotonous routine of climbing on fort roads with the overbearing weight of a carrier crushing their spirit and breaking their back or walking around confined temple spaces.
The unnatural stone surfaces become the cause of severe osteoarthritis in elephants!
For the elephants in the South of India, who were not only used for elephant joyrides but also as temple elephants living their life on whatever little “donation” offered by the devotees who’d believe this would be used for the elephant’s welfare, the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent lockdown has been a breath of fresh air. Usually loaded with heavy chains, painted with bright colours and adorned with heavy clothes to hide the scars that are a host to their body, these elephants had a tiring routine of walking the unnatural stone surfaces of the temple premises daily, feeding on sweets or prasad given to them by people who would come to offer prayers. The outbreak of coronavirus and the rapid spread of it, in South India, has led to all places of worship being closed for people as a large congregation of people will not lead to favourable consequences.
Fancy cloth is used to cover deep wounds and abscesses, but the elephants is not allowed any rest.
As the elephants find relief in this short period of freedom with no heavy chains as well as no treading on unnatural surfaces endlessly, there is another uncertainty that lurks around the future of these gentle giants. The State governments of Kerala and Rajasthan have made the necessary arrangements for their survival by providing monetary support to the elephant owners. With over 500 jumbos in Kerala and as many as 300 in Rajasthan not being paraded around for rides, temple processions and festivals, the elephant owners are gradually worrying about where their lives are headed! It takes as much as $1500 per month to take care of an elephant including fruits, fodder and sugarcanes as well as medical expenses, but with limited resources of sustenance and most of the resources being divided by overburdened medical facilities, the elephants’ survival is indeed a worrying part.
The exhausted elephants returning home after the rides end
The outbreak of coronavirus, that has paused the world in global lockdowns, sealed borders and limited movement, has also given a chance for us all to reflect on our deeds and actions, as well as the undue advantage that we have taken of the environment. Our deeply misjudged perception of animals and their plight is the reason the world is in neck-deep crisis like this, that has caused death to an unsurmountable level and may just be the deadliest incident the world has had to deal with since the World Wars! The lockdown in the country has been a 3-week long break for the elephants who would be used as machines treading listlessly through the traffic and on the busy roads or small streets.
In the end, it brings to light this crucial question – would the world be paralysed in a global crisis, if those who belong in the wild would stay in the wild? Would the elephants used for minting money be allowed this break and not deserve it if they would be in the wild?
These troubled times call for the world to unite and speak for the voiceless, by encouraging responsible tourism. Visit www.refusetoride.org to learn how to be a part of the change and help the elephants!