2.19.2011

ELEPHANT RIDE


I'm generally game for most things, and I was curious about the elephants. But the minute I got to the preserve, I decided that I would not enjoy novelty rides, such as those offered on the backs of elephants and camels. The creatures always look sad, and even a bit tawdry in their heavy makeup; they seem weary of their work, and profoundly displaced in city squares--even in protected countryside areas. And they frighten me, as well they should.


Elephants are fabulously large; camels are fabulously nasty and they even spit; both are completely mysterious. And will remain so, no matter how much we think we've tamed and mastered them. The plight of elephants--and lions--should make us all weep; they're in grave danger and their numbers are dwindling.

I suppose, if you have a vast desert to cross, it helps to be carried by a creature that doesn't need water. And if you have uncharted mountains to climb, you might feel more confident starting on top of a mountainous being. Lumbering along on the back of our elephant on our way to a campfire dinner, I finally understood exactly how long those historic Mughal treks across India, with princesses perched in their golden howdahs, must have felt. What I will never understand is what ever possessed anyone to climb on the back of an elephant in the first place.

26 comments:

Old School Brand said...

My sentiments exactly!

Layanee said...

An elephant walks quite softly and silently given its size doesn't he/she?

quintessence said...

Have been loving traveling with you vicariously all these days!! And a funny post to finally comment on but I so agree - it's somehow humiliating - poor souls!

Watercolor said...

I've never been up close to an elephant. They are gorgeous magnificent creatures. My first thought at the photograph was "oh! How beautiful!" at the adornments. Then I read your post at the elephant's mood and was crushed. And felt stupid. Well, duh, of course. I'm reminded of the poor donkeys and horses that pull carriages of tourists through the streets of New Orleans and Natchez in the blistering heat and high humidity of summer and how that makes me teary eyed. Romanced first by the beauty of the photograph. Oy. I should know better.

Marcia said...

I understand your feelings but if tourists stopped paying to ride them, their keepers would have no way to support them and there would be even less need for them. Better to think of the fee as a way to insure they will continue to be a part of Indian life.

Karena said...

Mankind is ever adventurous!

xoxo
Karena
Art by Karena

Barbara said...

Thank you, Dominique, for the ever- thoughtful posts and gorgeous photographs of your travels in India. This one about the elephant touched a chord, as I recently attended the circus with my 2 year old grandson. A highlight was a pre- performance up-close visit with Asia the elephant, a truly regal creature. My grandson was transfixed a he watched Asia paint a picture with a paintbrush wrapped in her trunk.
But when the Big Show actually started, the noise, lights and constant activity was frightening and overwhelming. Isy and his Grandpa spent most of the show out in the hall happily climbing the stairs and avoiding the cheering crowds and blaring music.
I stayed for the show, and as the nine pachyderms paraded in a circle,(NINE!) holding each others tails in typical style,(some
reluctantly,it appeared to me) I could see a tear rolling down the cheek of one of the larger animals.These magnificent creatures obeyed their orders to turn and prance, and laboriusly sit upright. It made me ill to think of the means used to train these majestic beings!
A tear.Perhaps I am projecting or personifying ( or whatever the psych term is) but you cannot tell me that these creatures are happy in that constantly noisy, over-stimulating atmosphere,just like my young grandson.
....I read 2 marvelous books about Elephants this past year, and must recommend them- Sara Gruen's Water for Elephants and Hannah's Dream by Diane Hammond. DO read them- and safe travels.

karensandburg said...

i believe in the tear of the elephant. how could he not cry when subjected to such humiliation and pain? the reward for all his hard work? being put back into a cage until his next "performance."

in "the cove", which won the oscar last year for best documentary, the trainer for the 'flipper' series was convinced that his lead dolphin whom he was very close to, was asking him to stop training animals when he swam over to him one day, looked at length into his eyes, nudged him and then committed suicide. feeling horrible remorse and the realization that he was causing these creatures great pain, he made it his life's work to help them and traveled with the film makers to stop dolphin slaughter in japan.

Gail, in northern California said...

Humans seem to have an insatiable desire to make every animal they come into contact with PERFORM. I don't understand that obsession. I cannot look at a gorilla, monkey or chimpanzee, their eyes seem to be saying "Why have you done this to us?" The plight of the elephant at our hands, another one. And, when they've finally had enough, the master (tormentor) wonders, "Gee, I don't know what happened. All of sudden he just went berserk!" Hello?

Lisa Stockwell said...

I share your opinion about how sad the elephants look. And maybe the camels too. But then I rode a camel in the desert west of Jaiselmar and near the end of the ride, which was meant to be only a walk, the boy who sat on the camel behind me serving as the guide decided to race his friend (on the back of my friend's camel) over the sand dunes. And galloping through the desert at sunset was one of those memories I'll never let go of. I sensed the camel was in his element and the gait was so smooth I felt like I was gliding on air.
The camels were being allowed to run free, the boys were excited to have two middle-aged women game for an adventure, and after a few weeks of amazing sensory overload in India, I just let go and had fun. I love travel for what it teaches us about other cultures and places. But sometimes it's nice just to have fun.

VLK said...

I agree, Dominique, it is heartbreaking when humans use animals merely as a means to our own ends. Put in these Kantian terms, it is clear that this is a deeply immoral act.

Regarding elephants in particular, there was a heart-wrenching article in the Sunday Times a couple of years ago about the harm humans are doing to elephant families by kidnapping the parents (for entertainment or the ivory)- it's traumatizing the orphans, who display behaviors like ill-treated orphaned humans. For the first time, there were reports of elephants raping a rhinoceros, and a deliberate murder of a villager. Some conservation organizations were calling on human trauma specialists to devise methods of therapy for these adolescent male elephants, with some promising results -- but it would be far better if we didn't break up their families in the first place. Truly, humans are the quintessential invasive species.

Please keep writing ... You bring such sad, elegant beauty to these topics. May your words change hundreds of thousands of hearts.

SweetRetreat said...

It is heartbreaking to see these poor animals. I could say so much but find the topic too disturbing.

Not enjoying your journey so much noW, but your writing is so worth a blog visit.

Anonymous said...

I just happened to come across your blog this morning and I must say how much I really have enjoyed browsing through all your posts, especially the ones from India. Generally, I'm drawn towards interior design and fashion blogs, but your blog has so much substance and thought put into it, which is a nice and refreshing change.

Your postings on India were so wonderful. I was in India about 18 years ago when I was a junior in college. I was on a program called Semester at Sea where we studied on a ship and visited about 12 countries. We saw some amazing places, but in the end, India was by far my favorite country that I had seen. The fact that it was so different (not meaning in a negative sense) from the world that I had come from made it so intriguing to me. It really could have been another world. At the time and even now, it is hard for me to put into words my thoughts and feelings about this country. Everything from the sights and smells to the sounds are so intense and hard to miss. Your description of a lot of things were dead on. You capture some wonderful pictures as well.

Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful experience with us. It brought back some wonderful memories. I look forward to enjoying your future posts!

Thea said...

i have never had the compulsion to tame a wild creature, so i don't understand what drives people to do so. i just don't think people get what the real meaning of biblical 'dominion' over beasts thing means. but breaking them and beating them into submission - i just don't get it. i assume it's that same mentality that allows others to enslave people.

Bitsy said...

It's likely that neither elephant nor camel wanted you riding on their backs. Though, mysterious as they are to some humans, their message goes unheeded.

Meanwhile, your stance on environmental defense is made crystal clear, and that is a priceless gift for your readers to be exposed to.

Cristina said...

it makes me sad too, but one has to think that whilst we are used to people riding i.e. horses, in other countries it can be perfectly normal to ride elephants and camels.
incidentally, I would've never imagined the latter in India!

Warren said...

Dominique, thought you may want to take notice of this trend... though your audience may tend to be a little older than those quoted in the NYTimes ....

"“I don’t use my blog anymore,” said Mr. McDonald, who lives in San Francisco. “All the people I’m trying to reach are on Facebook.” http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/technology/internet/21blog.html?src=me&ref=technology

For a straw poll of your followers yours is the first blog I've truly revisited.

Warren said...

While it is very "western' to comment on the sad look in the eyes of the elephants, etc. I tend to imagine what their lives would be like if their masters could not shake some hard currency from foreigners.
While we may shake with anger at the thought of child labor and lower wages for women in these countries, Dominique hit the nail on the head with the women road workers' comments -- they are the lucky ones to have work. The system may be broken, but these are making it work.
Sometimes I know I am being taken by a bazaar vendor by not negotiating hard enough on a purchase. Still, I justify my inaction as a sort of 'microloan' that may help them get ahead.
Go spend like a drunken sailor!

Dee @ Red Dirt Ramblings said...

I feel the same way. Elephants have always been my favorite animal. Your first picture says it all.~~Dee

Tamara Matthews-Stephenson said...

I so agree with you Dominique and it is touching to see the sadness lingering in their eyes. My daughter is very sensitive to animals and frequently points to the horses near Central Park and wants to save them all....thanks for posting. Hope your trip has been wonderful and look forward to reading more. best, Tamara of http://nestnestnest.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Thank you for not supporting riding elephants. As a long time elephant welfare advocate I appreciate you enlightening others. To be ridden elephants undergo punjab. It is a horrible process. What you see is a broken spirit. I suggest checking out the Elephant Nature Park outside Chaing Mai, Thailand and Lek to learn more. I too enjoy traveling with you vicariously.

Dominique said...

Thank you all for your comments. I do think all these issues are very complicated. I've been reading lots of history, and some strange books too, such as "A Princess Remembers" by the Maharani of Jaipur, and elephants were a big part of her childhood--because they were used for tiger and leopard hunts. We did see quite a few examples of taxidermied tigers....but she makes the point that hunting hasn't brought tigers to near extinction, but rather that the encroachment on their territory, the human development, has. Of course these things are more complicated.

Re blogging v. Twitter, Facebook, etc. I believe that the writing world online is just sorting itself out. There's no reason to think that it will be one size fits all. There's a certain kind of writing--and thinking, and conversation--that can't be done in the Twitter length taglines. These things may end up dividing along generational lines--but I tend to think of them as more related to "usefulness" lines.

Thank you so much for returning to the site!

Shandell's said...

They do look sad. They are not toys for use to play with, their need for respect is far more important. Yes, we do to co-exist with animals, using them like this is wrong. Good for you, not taking a ride. We would not treat ourselves this way.

namismom said...

I really don't know anything about elephants and camels, but I do know about horses, and there are many different ways to train them to be ridden, including, as Thea says, "breaking them and beating them into submission." Horses trained this way are broken. But horses trained with patience and understanding become eager to work with a human rider, and a partnership develops. I wonder if it might be the same with elephants and camels. Yes, we should respect animals, and yes, we shouldn't treat them like toys, but I also know what an amazing gift horses willingly give us when they permit us to climb on their backs.

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