The (Ab)use Of Elephants In India

August 18, 2013 in Daily Bulletin

Rollo Romig took a look at the use of elephants in Indian festivals:

  • Elephants in India were used for many years as tanks in wartime and useful labour during peacetime.
  • In between battles they were likely housed in temples and thus were integrated into religious festivals. As war become increasingly mechanized taking a role in religious celebrations was the only role left for elephants.
  • This is how elephants have become intrinsically linked with religion – even though scripture doesn’t talk about them.
  • It’s not just Hindus who use elephants. The same animals that carry around Hindu idols are also used for Muslim and Christian events.
  • These days elephants have groupies and fan sites. Committed fans trash talk other elephants, with one particularly passionate individual saying that a rival elephant should be tied up “in the cow barn”.
  • Yet elephants aren’t meant to be used for these purposes – and there have been a worrying number of deaths as a result of elephants running amok among crowds.
  • The elephants are also frequently abused, beaten, and almost always chained.
  • The government of India has recognized this and banned the capture of wild elephants. Thus supply is falling even as demand rises.
  • An elephant’s day is worth ₹50,000 – about US$1,000. A couple decades ago this much money would’ve been enough to purchase the elephant.
  • And that’s nothing to say about the bribes that have to be paid to have the elephants grace festivals with their presence. These can cost as much as ₹50,000.
  • Banning the use of elephants outright would be an easy solution. One drawback would be that without their presence at religious festivals people might stop considering them sacred…and this might reverse the important gains that have been made in wild-elephant populations in India.

The issue is complex. Read about the abuse that the elephants undergo, the mahouts that are responsible for it, the family twists worthy of an Indian film, the activist fighting for the elephants, and pictures of the beasts over here.

Source: The New York Times