In the Room & Behind Closed Doors: Elephants

Chitwan N.P.

Today has been both beautiful and disturbing. Beautiful for the opportunity to be privy to such an isolated and preserved way of living and disturbing to see the grit revealed once the veiling sheet of tourism is torn away.

We dedicated this morning to the elephants, first on a walking tour and then to the baths. We estimated that between the 3-4 people and platform, each elephant probably carried close to 300 kg for near two hours, give or take some. Cassandra was the first to look for signs of mistreatment, but I leaned more heavily on the side of optimism reasoning that despite the malnourishment of the people, this was a state-funded national park and tourism the only lucrative business aside from mini garage-based markets, fruit stands, and agriculture (predominantly rice). It was in their best interest to treat the elephants well. By the end of our ride we were eased of our suspicions. Only moments after disembarking however we saw a sinewed muscled arm raise the bamboo stick that had only minutes before been used to brush aside tree branches and leaves from our path crack down upon the head in repeated blows. It began with the bamboo and progressed to the metal rod. It’s awful to hear such  big animal shake and squeal such small sounds. Both of us were so shocked that we completely lost our mental footings. Had I the chance to do it over again, I would have video-tapped the entire incident or rather, the string of them. After pauses we could hear it continue even as the elephant and its handler drifted further and further back. In its least dramatic light, it was a terrible misuse of force for no legitimate reason (the elephant had faltered along the ride because a small herd of deer, startled by its grand presence had darted near and behind the elephant beyond its field of vision). The small disobedience hardly supplemented grounds for corporal punishment, and further, it defies both morality and logic to believe it does so. No one thought to beat the car when it broke down the middle of the dirt road… and it did that five times just the oneway drive over.

Next on the agenda was the ‘elephant bathing,’ an event which had previously been the most looked forward to even on within our plans. Now we were suspicious. Unfortunately, our fears were confirmed. Even here, in the middle of nowhere, the scene was the epitome of commercialization. While not all of the handlers were as course as the one highlighted in the video I did manage to take this time around, the fact this his behavior is so public is not painting a hopeful picture of what is very likely going on behind closed doors.

It appalls me also to see the row of malleable tourists posing for these photos as if the lives of both the starving man who felt the need to do this in the first place and the victimized animal were there simply to be enjoyed and forgotten after a valueless and manufactured photo shoot.

As unsavoring as this image  of the light-skinned, plump, and mentally malleable tourist is, the fault of the abuse ultimately falls to its perpetrators: the handlers. Equally potent as this moral disregard, is the broken logic of the deed.

Pragmatically speaking…

**Discussion To Be Continued.

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