Elephant Riding in Jaipur (What You Should Know), The work of the organization Help In Suffering

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January 18th 2008
Published: December 28th 2007
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12/27/07: Prior to trip I wrote: After Agra, I will depart to Jaipur which is famous for the Amber Fort, and other monuments and castles. While Jaipur is the gateway into a major tourist destination in India, Rajasthan; coming to Jaipur for me was inspired by my research about elephant riding. I learned about the wonderful work that the organization, HELP IN SUFFERING is doing. On their website they have this quote, " “It shall be the fundamental duty of every citizen of India … to have compassion for all living creatures” Constitution of India, Article 51-A(g)." That should be a worldwide law, shouldn't it? I knew I had to come and see for myself, even though this would likely be my first time placing myself in a position of witnessing elephants being exploited and not being well-cared for. H.I.S. has a good website that tells about the other projects they are involved with (www.his-india.org.au/). I was fortunate to make contact with Dr. MadhuLal who has been actively involved with providing medical care to these elephants, but also trying to introduce the bamboo ankush, and education to mahouts on caring for elephants. I will also visit the H.I.S. animal shelter which I know will likely be emotionally challenging for me. It seems that I am to go where I have been hesitant to go... to protect my heart from feeling pain for the suffering of animals only keeps me removed from being able to help them, even if it is to only be present in compassion.

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17 January 2008: I know why I am here. It has been such an amazing day in Jaipur. Dr. Madhu was so kind as to give me a personalized tour of the work that HIS (Help in Suffering) is doing with the working elephants in Jaipur (particularly those that work doing tourist rides up the Amber Fort). Much progress has been made by this humble organization, including a government mandate that owners of elephants now must provide for shade. Trying to imagine these beautiful creatures without shade in 120 plus degree heat is difficult to imagine, but their lives have gradually started to improve with the implementation of shade two years ago. A few other great things that HIS’s advocacy has lead to is better working conditions for the elephants, including not having to do more than five tourist rides up to the Amber Fort daily, the rides now only being one way where the tourist needs to arrange for an alternative means of transport down from the fort, that no more than 2 riders in addition to the mahout be on the elephant, and that the elephants be only worked before the heat of the day. The government has now provided shelter for the about ½ of the elephants near the fort, and the owners are then responsible for having a sheltered area for their elephants when they return "home." Interesting, most elephant owners are fairly financially well off (as opposed to camel owners), but the mahouts that ride them are not. This puts strain on the elephant-mahout relationship, which in traditional times was a very close bond between the elephant and his mahout. Now, because the mahouts do not get paid a decent livelihood, there is more turn over of mahouts in the care of an individual elephant. This means that the bonding and long-term relationships, and the compassion and care that generally goes along with this, are at risk. It is therefore, part of HIS’s objective to see the elephant and mahout as a working partnership. To only care about the elephants and not the mahouts that care for them, does little to improve the long-term care and treatment of the elephants. While HIS has done much to work for governmental regulations, the next objectives are to improve the status of the mahout so they are paid fairly. “A happy mahout makes a happy elephant” is HIS’s belief. Other important objectives is to improve the training of mahouts and require that they have certification, and to eliminate the metal hook (or Ankus) by replacing it with the bamboo stick that causes less physical injury and pain. Currently, there is also work being done to introduce a light weight carriage (currently being trialled in Thailand) so the impact of elephant rides can be lessened. Additionally, the other very important objective is the development of an elephant sanctuary. The allotment of forest land for the elephants is currently being negotiated with the India Government and it is the hope that before long, a true sanctuary for these elephants will be in their future.

For me, interacting with these elephants and seeing the work that HIS is doing was absolutely incredible. Only a big, “Wow” could come close to describing the thrill of being near so many beautiful beings. After a morning with the elephants, and a nice lunch where I was able to meet Sarah from England (she spent a month volunteering for HIS last year), we went to visit the HIS Animal Shelter. Of interest and “coincidence,” Sarah has been inspired to further her studies into animal communication. She has met someone who also is into animal communication and has a desire to open an animal shelter together in England. Sarah said while she does not want to be a veterinarian, she believes that following this path is what will take her deeper into truly helping animals. I thought meeting her here, and hearing these words were pretty cool and a sign that I was again in the right place. We will be spending more time together tomorrow, as we visit the different projects together.

At the HIS Animal Shelter, I watched the staff move from one animal to another, providing dedicated care. They have a spay program for stray dogs, bringing in the females for four days. The males are not neutered but are given vaccinations then released. Ten dogs are brought in every day! They are keeping statistics and are making gains, including eliminating rabies in Jaipur. The staff maintain detailed records of where they picked up the animal, so they can be returned when they have completed their treatment. HIS also has an adoption program for the animals they keep, especially the every plentiful puppy. They are also providing medical care to sad-looking, worn-down working donkeys and horses of Jaipur, as well as run the "Camel Project." Tomorrow, I will be going out first with the Camel Project then it will be back to see the elephants again.

It feels that my heart was very much touched by the compassion that guides the work that HIS (Help In Suffering) is doing, which is also supported by a key organization called, "Elephant Family." I will certainly want to stay involved with HIS, and explore what type of fundraising I may be able to do in the future to help. So… stay tuned!

18 January 2008: Today the Camel Project (Help In Suffering) Van came to the Pearl Palace Motel to pick me up. Yesterday, it was the Elephant Project Van so what
Office by Amber FortOffice by Amber FortOffice by Amber Fort

The elephants know these are the good guys that come for their daily visit.
service!!! The work that is being done by HIS regarding the camels is very important work. As mentioned, the owners of the camels are often quite poor and do not have the educational background or financial means to deal with the medical issues that come up with their camels. One major issue is skin breakdown issues, or abscesses, that develop from the friction of the harness, nose plugs, and from being instructed to lay down on the hard payment. Part of the work HIS does with both the elephant and camel projects is to provide education and empowerment to the animals' caregivers by teaching them and giving them the supplies in caring for the animal's unique issue. Sometimes, it is a very hands on experience for the staff, which it was today with one particular camel that had a very large abscess on her face. The abscess was preventing her from being able to eat. Dr. Pradeep whom is in charge of the Camel Project, did a great job at relieving the animal infection then packing the wound. The camel owners observed so they could learn what to do, and also how to lessen the chance of such wounds in the future. Dr. Pradeep will continue to monitor the camel's progress, and supervise and provide the medical supplies to the owner who for the most part will now take over the care of his camel. This is also true with the elephants, as HIS does not want to foster dependency but rather the education and the means for dealing with the health issues that will continue to come up. With the mahout or owner having to fully participate in what it takes to heal the animal of its' problem, this also decreases the chance of careless or ignorant behavior that may have contributed to the problem in the first place.

After some time with the Camel Project, I was dropped off at the Amber Fort again where the Elephant Project was still working. Today, I just spend some quality time with the elephants that were there, in particular two special elephants that appeared or acted as though they may be sisters. They both responded to my humming, and put their trunks together so I could gentle touch and be in contact with them at the same time. It was so beautiful how they would gently close their eyes, when not looking at me so sweetly. I place the time with the staff at HIS, and of coarse the elephants, as the most meaningful of my trip thus far. I am so glad that the elephants of Jaipur invited me to see them, as is my only explanation for the feeling of warmth I had with each one of them. Tomorrow it will be off to Varanasi, but Jaipur will remain in my heart, and will be on my list to return here again.

Also please visit my website @ www.animaldreamers.org

Additional photos below
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Oh my aching feet!Oh my aching feet!
Oh my aching feet!

The hot, hard ground and standing on cement for hours leads to cracking of the elephants toe nails and soles of their feet- Not to mention the weight of the riding carriage.

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