EWN offers kudos to Animal Nepal for publishing An Elephant Is Not A Machine, a report on the welfare conditions of safari elephants in Sauraha, Chitwan. The survey of 42 privately owned ‘safari elephant’ in Sauraha learns that their welfare is ‘greatly compromised’.
According to the report, only 18% of elephants live under ‘Improving Conditions’ while 82% of elephants have to cope with ‘Unsuitable Conditions’. Not a single elephant qualifies for ‘Excellent Conditions’. Welfare conditions fall short in many areas including freedom of movement, shelter conditions, nutrition, health and healthcare, safari management, as well as mahout welfare.
Chris Pitt, Campaigns Manager for Care for the Wild International, says the research is vital to improve conditions of safari elephants in Chitwan.
“We conducted the survey after receiving many complaints from tourists and observing the deteriorating conditions in Chitwan first hand,” says researcher Lucia de Vries. She says the acute suffering of elephants needs to be addressed urgently. “In order to save human and elephant lives, and to improve the image of the tourism industry, authorities and elephant owners should cooperate to improve safari management,” according to the researcher.
The conditions of Sauraha’s safari elephants seem to go largely unmonitored by authorities and tourism associations. Among the 42 surveyed elephants four are fully blind, two are under-aged and eight suffer from Tuberculosis, yet work full time. Some are over 60 years old yet in the absence of retirement facilities work full time.
Elephant safaris have become controversial with increased criticism from welfare organisations and responsible tourism companies.
According to Pitt from Care for the Wild International, the elephant trekking industry needs to be regulated so that conditions improve, both for the elephants and the mahouts. “In order to do that properly, we need to understand exactly how the industry works, which is why Animal Nepal’s research is absolutely vital. This study can inform change which can help elephant trekking improve itself for the good of the industry, the mahouts, and particularly the elephants,” says Pitt.
One of the main findings of the report shows the direct correlation between the welfare of elephant and that of mahouts. Elephants whose mahouts are well taken care off are generally healthier. With a few exceptions the outcomes show that mahouts of elephants who score lowly in terms of Elephant Welfare face issues such as insufficient income, inappropriate housing or other issues.
Another important finding is that elephants housed together with and are in close proximity of elephants they like are likely to be healthier.
Hobbles and ropes used for the fitting can cause wounds, tissue damage and in the worst case even spinal injury. All these can be observed in Sauraha’s elephants, of which 24 % suffers from wounds, and one from spinal injury.
Considering the high presence of beatings, there appears to be an urgent need for elephant owners and mahouts to study and practice humane control management and to replace beatings and injuries with positive reinforcement.
Generally elephant owners show a surprising lack of knowledge of elephant behavior and management. In turn mahouts tend to hold on to outdated beliefs about elephant control and management. Exposure and training will address these issues and prepare owners and caretakers for scientific, humane and professional elephant management.
With the present unregulated safari management, the safety of customers, caretakers and public at large is at risk. Immediate interventions are needed to improve safety and general management standards.
Improved legislation and detailed welfare standards and guidelines are needed to provide a framework for better safari elephant management, says the report, which can be downloaded here.