*Disclaimer: Note that this post is solely based on MY experience and MY opinions and does not reflect on the companies that I toured with, or their stance on the subject whatsoever.*
When I booked my trip to India, I knew there was one part of the itinerary that just didn’t sit well with me and that was the elephant interactions at Eleday, which is an elephant farm based in Jaipur that claims to save elephants previously used in circuses and elephant rides. Unfortunately, it was included in the itinerary and there wasn’t anyway of opting out of it, although we were told we did not have to participate if we felt uncomfortable, so that was a plus, except for the fact I couldn’t get my money back, but whatever. I was actually dreading it to be honest and as we approached the gate to the property, I felt my stomach turn into a bunch of knots. Almost like a sick feeling. It wasn’t good.
We were greeted by a man, dressed in a fancy suit, fancy shoes and to me, resembled more of a businessman than someone who spends time “caring for” elephants all day. I do have to say, he was extremely knowledgeable of elephants though.
They assigned two people per elephant to pet, paint and potentially ride. I of course, said no to painting and a big hard no to riding these gentle giants. As the elephants were “presented” to us in a line with a handler leading them to us tied to a rope, I could just see that their tails laid limp, heads hung low and they did not look happy at all. Let the extreme feeling of guilt commence. I just stood there, trying to take it all in and process it.
Read more: How I Spent Two Weeks Travelling In India
Then, I was triggered.
Nothing pisses me off more than a place claiming to be a sanctuary, or safe farm for animals previously held in captivity, when in reality, they are anything BUT that and are holding them there solely for tourists’ pleasure…if you can even call it that!
After doing my own pre-trip research of this so-called “sanctuary, or farm”, I was horrified to learn that the place still offered elephant rides to its visitors upon arriving at the property. Another thing that irked me was that visitors could paint the elephants in an array of gaudy bright coloured paints, which they deemed were “safe and vegetable based”, but upon looking at them first hand, they looked as though they were neon watered down Crayola style paints that you would give your five year old child to colour with. They claim that the paint can be scrubbed off, but our elephant still had faded paint from previous visits very visible. Watching people paint them in neon colours as the elephants stood there with lifeless looks in their big brown eyes, made me cringe. These creatures are not here to be treated as your vehicle, or your canvas.
Some people opted to ride the elephant and as much as it made me ill watching people, one by one clammer onto the backs of these poor elephants and treating them as if they were their own personal vehicle, I’m not one to preach to people about what they should and shouldn’t do. It’s not my place to do so. I could only speak for myself and my own feelings towards this matter.
Yes, I do understand the significance of elephants within Indian culture and the history behind it all, but as tourists, it’s so important to educate ourselves on other aspects of animal tourism within the countries that we visit around the world and how to interact properly, if at all.
I guess what I am trying to say is, just because a place claims to be a sanctuary, or rescue farm, please do your research, I mean THOROUGH research because in today’s mass tourism day and age, slapping the word sanctuary, or rescue farm on an establishment name means ill advised tourists will visit and money will be given…and money talks.
Responsible tourism is so important.
And remember: Education is power.