A thought for our gentle giants!

Plabita Baruah

Riding an elephant can be fun but at what cost? ….. a thought for our gentle giants!

I remember when I was a kid; the most exciting part of a visit to a wildlife sanctuary was the elephant ride.  Riding an elephant was fascinating; there was a majestic feeling about sitting on top of these huge animals and seeing the world around you from that height. I have witnessed elephants as a major source of transportation at many famous tourist places across the country. Although the enthusiasm to ride them subsided with the addition of years to my life but never did I ponder much on these big animals carrying loads on their backs.  Just because they seemed huge, it was sort of accepted that they were able to carry huge loads with ease. Until a few days back when I came across a picture of an elephant’s anatomy and looking closely at the picture, out of curiosity of course, the feature that strike me most was its backbone. The elephant’s skeleton seemed to have sharp structures protruding from their spines upwards. Though not a biologist, this picture led me to search all over the internet only to be shocked and saddened by the results of my day long research. The bottomline of all the study was that these bony protrusions on the elephants’ back are not meant to be loaded from the top. The elephant’s anatomy is designed to carry a specific amount of weight suspended below their spine. Now if we imagine the elephants we see at the tourists places, they have a heavy harness on their back securely tied which are itself heavy, on top of which extra pounds of at least four people are added.  And carrying this weight, the animal has to walk without rest for almost the whole day. Sometimes uphill too, irrespective of the winter chill or the scorching summer heat.

Now having to carry such heavy loads on their backs which are not even meant to carry such weights, everyday is most likely to cause permanent spinal injuries.  Moreover the chairs that are strapped to their backs causes blisters due to constant friction and rubbing. The strap fastened beneath their tails to secure these chairs apart from being a source of discomfort, also makes it difficult for them to attend nature’s call naturally.  The blisters sometimes cause tumors that lead to serious infections.  Due to long miles of trekking, the elephants also may get foot injuries. Apart from that, in order to keep these huge beasts in control, the mahouts’ uses his feet to kick behind its ears which are not a pleasant experience for the animal as an elephants ears are supposed to be very sensitive. Not to forget the sharp object used to stab on its head.

Apart from taking a toll on the animal’s physical health, these tortures affect the elephants mentally also. The elephants are known to be highly intelligent, have good memory power, are fond of socializing and living together in large groups.  The elephants’ natural instincts would never allow anyone to ride them, so in order to tame them and make them submissive they are tortured from a very young age which completely breaks down their spirit. These tortures on baby elephants include beating with clubs and other sharp piercing objects, starving them and depriving them of sleep.  The colorfully painted majestic animals adorning tourist places that carry around the tourists also carry the heavy burden of years of abuse, slavery and a life turned into permanent misery. The physical and mental trauma our gentle giants go through is never worth the momentary pleasure of riding it for a few minutes. These big animals belong to the wild, to the forests among their own kith and kin, not as slaves of the supposedly most intelligent species on earth.

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