The Refuse to Ride campaign says it aptly: if you truly love elephants, you will never ride one. But even if you have a heart, you will not opt for jumbo joyride after knowing how their ears are clipped and beaten up for several days to train them to take rides.
Wildlife SOS, Delhi-based NGO which has been known for rescuing `dancing’ bears from the brutality of Indian roads, has also saved many elephants from atrocity. It kicked off the Refuse to Ride campaign, partnering with the Gatimaan Express–Indian Railway’s high speed tourist train between Delhi and Agra. The campaign aims to create awareness among tourists about the abuse that Asian elephants undergo at the hands of their handlers–be it in nature parks or cities like Jaipur where they are specifically used for joyrides.
Kartick Satynarayan, co-founder and chairman of Wildlife SOS says, “The campaign is aimed at creating awareness and promoting elephant protection using unusual mechanism. In the recent past, a number of these pachyderms have died across the railway lines being hit by trains. That is why we thought of using a train to spread the message. All the seats of the Gatimaan express (AC chair car train) having head rest covers with campaign flyers #refusetoride and information about the abused elephants. The food trays also have leaflets as liners where there are more details of the elephant deaths and abuse. We have also put up huge poster sized pictures of jumbos. And we already have received incredible feedback from the travellers and they say their souls are churned seeing those information. Tourists and public are innocent and ignorant. If they know the grim realities, they would definitely not ride one hereafter. That is the change we are looking at.”
He further added how the tuskers used for rides or carrying load are treated. “Elephants belong to the wild. They can get easily angered so they are trained through pain and fear mechanisms. They are constantly beaten up, and their ears are clipped…all this goes on until its spirit dies and it bows to the handler’s commands,” he says.
The campaign will go on for 30 days and plans are in place to roll it out in taxis in other cities too.
Elephant in India is a heritage animal and home to the largest population of the Asian elephant species until half a decade ago. According to the Elephant Census 2017, decline in numbers are starting to threaten the species already. Till 2017 survey, India had 27,312 tuskers in 23 states, a drop from an estimated 30,700 in 2012. In 2007, there were an estimated 27,670.
In the last eight years, the country witnessed 80 elephants dying every year, which totals up to 655. The observation of the census is that there were four main reasons for this–electrocution, train accidents/collision, poaching and poisoning.
In December, an elephant in Nagarhole forest in Karnataka was found dead while crossing a tall fence. This happened a couple of months after `Rowdy Ranga’–another from the same forest range was mowed down by speeding bus on the highway criss-crossing the forest. Odisha saw about 65 ghastly elephant deaths in 2018, mainly due to poaching. One of them was an eight year old jumbo that chewed a bomb left by poachers in Rajanagar.