Whenever you visit a tourist or pilgrimage spot in the country, you may have come across animals being used as attractions. Whether it is the elephants in the temples of south India, the mules in Kedarnath, camels in Pushkar or the horses in Puri. These animals are known to serve both purposes - convenience, especially in hilly terrains and otherwise recreational.
Well, for many, these animals are their only source of employment and livelihood.
However, there is a downside to this. More often than not the voiceless creatures are subjected to strain since they are made to carry loads and make trips across rugged terrains and harsh weather conditions. So, with a view to change this, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India, began working on an initiative to replace elephant rides at the historic Amer Fort in Jaipur with electric vehicles.
Coexistence of elephants and electric vehicles
And now, both elephant rides and electric vehicles that resemble smaller versions of golf carts are deployed.
Hemant Kumar Khatri, an independent tourist guide at Amer Fort, who also operates in Rajasthan and other states in North India, says, “There are many options to reach Amer Fort - people can walk, hop onto elephants or take the electric vehicles. But, most of them, especially visitors from abroad, prefer elephant rides.”
Presently, elephants are there only till 11 in the morning along with elephant mahouts. As per government rules, during the peak tourist season in winters, (November to February) a maximum of five elephant rides is allowed in a day. This of course tends to dip to one ride a day through summer (April to June).
Khatri feels that elephants play an integral role in attracting tourists at Amer Fort.
“While a lot of the travellers visit the fort specifically for the elephant rides, some are just keen to click pictures and upload the same on social media.”
But, after the organisation of more and more campaigns surrounding animal welfare, Khatri has been observing a slight shift in the behaviour of individuals.
“In recent times, there is a section of tourists who particularly refuse to ride on elephants keeping their welfare or interest in mind”, says Khatri.
Emergence of other alternatives
Recently, PETA India collaborated with a leading design company called Desmania Design to build an electric vehicle to replace elephant rides. This proposed electric vehicle, likely to be named ‘Maharaja’, resembles a royal chariot that can ferry four tourists per trip and is considered suitable for hilly terrains like that of Amer Fort. Presently, smaller four-wheeler vehicles resembling miniature golf carts are active at the fort.
As part of this, PETA India proposed certain recommendations which were in turn effective in the creation of an expert committee appointed by the Central Government to put an end to elephant rides at Amer Fort. The committee’s suggestions included refraining from using elephants with irreparable eye problems for rides and banning new additions of the animal.
The members of PETA prepared a report after inspecting the situation at Amer Fort and it states, “Among the 98 captive elephants inspected, 22 suffered from irreversible eye problems and 42 had foot related issues, including overgrown nails and flat footpads after walking on concrete roads. Three of them tested positive for tuberculosis.”
PETA India’s Chief Advocacy Officer, Khusboo Gupta says, "The chief secretary of the Government of Rajasthan lent his ears to PETA India and now we hope both tourists and elephants alike will get some royal treatment with these majestic, cutting-edge cars, which can replace animals."
Impact on tourism and livelihood
While many animal activists staunchly opposed elephant rides at the Amer Fort, ride operators have a completely contrasting view.
Abdul Aziz, president of the Haathi Malik Vikas Samiti, calls the attempts to replace the elephant rides with the electric vehicles as unfair, also assuring that the elephants are always cared for. “How is it fair for this report to say that the elephant rides should be done away with?,” questioning Aziz.
Aziz also explains the impact this report will have on the livelihood of mahouts.
“More than 20,000 people from our community of mahouts owe their livelihoods to these elephant rides. Moreover, several other people from the tourism industry also benefit from the rides. If they are closed, how will they survive?,” says Aziz.
Well, Khatri has a mixed opinion about electric vehicles replacing elephant rides.
“Elephants have always been a tourist attraction here. These EVs might not give a boost to tourism in any way. At the same time, I feel that if these new vehicles are available at reasonable rates, people might just opt for them,” adds Khatri.
We all know that the tourism sector has been one of the worst affected due to the COVID-19 outbreak, so arriving at an amicable solution is the need of the hour. On one hand, while the health of the elephants at the fort is of utmost importance, ignoring the livelihood aspect can be devastating for the mahouts.
Edited by Roshni Shroff
Some resources and links to help you learn more about the elephant rides at Amer Fort -
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