One long affair coming to an end

An elephant fitted with a reflector for safety climbing uphill at the historic Amber Fort near Jaipur. For the past six years the Elephant Family has pioneered tasks such as this.

JAIPUR: Elephants will never like it, but it is happening. The good old Elephant Family, which brought the Pink City’s hundred-odd elephants out of the morass they were in once, is quitting after six years of remarkable work.

The silver lining perhaps is that the Elephant Family, founded by noted environmentalist Mark Shand, is leaving on a happy note. In fact, the encouraging outcome of the work it carried out in unison with a local NGO, Help in Suffering, is cited as the reason for its departure.

“We are leaving the Jaipur elephants in a much better condition. I am very much contented. Prior to our arrival the hundred strong captive elephants in Jaipur were living under terrible conditions. Working throughout the day in blistering heat they carried an endless number of tourists to the Amber Fort and back,” says Mr. Shand, brother of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

The Elephant Family’s decision to leave Jaipur is based also on a report prepared by renowned elephant expert Jacob V. Cheeran, which certified the improved health status of the animals — now numbering 116 — thanks to better nourishment and housing facilities. “It has been also noticed that there is a better understanding about the need for elephant welfare among the mahouts and owners,” Dr. Cheeran’s report adds.

“The Elephant Family was able to set a benchmark for the elephants of Jaipur. The rest of it can be taken care of now by the elephant owners and the government departments,” Mr. Shand says, adding, “We are an NGO basically for conservation of wild elephants. Six years is a long time. We have a lot more things to take care of.”
The Elephant Family is now planning to take up work on elephant corridors in Kerala’s Wynad and in Assam. “There is a greater need to take care of the highly endangered wild elephants,” he says. He is obviously worried about India’s 15,000-strong existing population of wild elephants.

Beginning work here on an invitation from the former Queen Mother of Jaipur, Rajmata Gayatri Devi, the Elephant Family brought about a transformation in the captive elephant milieu here. “We changed the mind-set of the elephant owners. Working relentlessly, at times against considerable scepticism, our team members, Madhu Valliatee and Sunil Chawla, did a remarkable job by opening a dialogue with elephant owners and mahouts who are not the same people in most of the cases,” says Mr. Shand, adding, “I could not have visualised such a change six years back.”

The outstanding work done by the group includes a ban on use of the deadly ankush (metal hook) on the elephants, a major reduction in dehydration, constipation and skin problems, and a significant decline in the number of rope sores and bed sores. Taking up the issue with the tourism authorities, it got the number of persons riding on elephant back while climbing up the hill reduced from four to two. While mounting down, no passengers are allowed now. The number of elephants getting injured while travelling back to Jaipur from Amber in the evening too came down after the animals were fitted with reflectors.

Both Mr. Shand and Dr. Cheeran think domesticating elephants is not desirable. “In an ideal world there should not be captive elephants. While keeping elephants in captivity we cannot provide them conditions which they enjoy in the wild,” they explain.
That is why both have strongly recommended a ban on bringing any more elephants to Jaipur.

Reports: The Hindu

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