"My heart breaks into thousand pieces seeing these poor elephants being beaten and forced to give a ride at Amber Fort," says People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) President and co-founder Ingrid Newkirk who was in Jaipur on Wednesday ahead of Animal Rights Day, December 10. Ingrid and her two companions sat outside Jaipur's historic monument, Albert Hall on a road show holding placards written, 'End Elephant Slavery in 2019' and "Ban Elephant Rides". Two of them wore elephant masks, had put on chains and shackles and painted their palms blood-red as a token of protest.
Captive elephants giving tourist rides at the Amber Fort, situated on the outskirts of the City are a usual sight but that the animals being hit, jabbed, and manhandled mostly go unnoticed. Newkirk said that last time when she visited Hathi Gaon (Elephant village) of Jaipur secretly, she saw the elephants being beaten with a stick and kept chained in a miserable condition. "The trainers torture the animals using bullhooks or ankush to make them obey–-- a way to break their spirit," she said. When the elephant caretakers came to know that she was there they tried to hide sticks in the bushes and acted as if they were taking good care of the animal, she said.
The country awakened to the plight of the elephants after Indian cricket captain Virat Kohli, on behalf of PETA India, wrote an open letter to Rajasthan’s Forest and Environment Minister seeking to relocate the elephant with the registration number 44. A video shot by an American tourist, which went viral, showed eight men violently beating an elephant at Amber Fort and forcing it to give rides.
Airing her dismay with the treatment of elephants of Amber Newkirk said that government could look for other means of earning money and people could go to the fort and enjoy the architecture rather than looking forward to the elephant ride. " It is high time that the animals are sent back to sanctuaries where they can stay with their kind and live freely without chain and fear. It is time that over 100 of them, working at Amber Fort, are freed. In the name of tourist attraction and heritage, they have been made to suffer for long. They have been beaten into submission. I am trying to go to court and help elephant Number 44," Ingrid asserted.
Though a police complaint has been filed in the case of Elephant 44 and a show-cause notice has been issued to its custodian, Wasid Khan till now the pachyderm has not been tracked. It is being pointed out that with the plea of ongoing Assembly elections in Rajasthan the animal is kept hidden somewhere. On her part Ingrid, even after much effort, could not yet meet the concerned authorities or the police officials regarding this matter.
The change is inevitable says the PETA co-founder. "The largest travel site in the world including Expedia and more than a hundred travel companies and travel-book publishers ended promotions of captive-elephant attractions after seeing the eyewitness footage that went viral recently. They have stopped supporting outfits with sordid histories,” she said. "The government cannot remain blindfolded for long," she added.
Hitting on melas or animal fairs like 'Pushkar Fair', Newkirk said that she felt bad seeing such fairs being organised and government supporting them, “From the fairground, the animals are transported to far away states like Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and also overseas,” she noted.
Raising the momentum against the elephant ride, Newkirk recently met Union Minister of State for Tourism, K.J. Alphonse. Alphonse has reportedly issued a letter to the Tourism Secretaries of the states regarding the concerns of cruelty to elephants used in tourism destinations.