Elephant Polo (Before You Go): Two sides of the debate; Do animals enjoy performing for tourists? The Asian Elephant and the impact of the tourist industry. Are the elephants enjoying these activities, such as Elephant Polo, as we are led to believe?

February 19th 2008
Published: February 19th 2008
Edit Blog Post

Picture Credit: www.tickle-and-the-ivories: Photo by Tim Deysel, 2001. What are we talking about? Elephant Polo in ActionPicture Credit: www.tickle-and-the-ivories: Photo by Tim Deysel, 2001. What are we talking about? Elephant Polo in ActionPicture Credit: www.tickle-and-the-ivories: Photo by Tim Deysel, 2001. What are we talking about? Elephant Polo in Action

Although the website www.tickle-and-the-ivories views the human experience of Elephant Polo as being fun and adventurous, it lacks is telling the story of what the elephants' experience may be. This is the point of this blog entry, for us to remember to consider how the animals may feel and experience our treatment of them.
(Note: This article was picked up by Daylife (a New York based online news site) as a lead article on February 21, 2008: www.daylife.com/article/0h0EaaM9hzel4. They also have some past articles they have gathered from some other sites regarding the plight of the Asian Elephant and the pro/cons of elephants performing for tourists: www.daylife.com/search/articles/all/1?q=elephant+polo).

Elephant Polo (Before You Go): Two sides of the debate; Do animals enjoy performing for tourists?

Traveling in Thailand, and India, as well as other Asian Countries, you may learn or have the opportunity to view (or even participate) in Elephant Polo events. The following blog entry is to highlight some issues to consider regarding the treatment and care of the elephant participants.

Here's the Debate: Is the use of animals in entertainment (in this case, the "game" of Elephant Polo) causing harm to the animals it features?

Beginning with the negative side (the Cons List), here is some information that I stumbled onto:

The following is some information from an internet link (www.stopelephantpolo.com) that certainly makes one think about the physical and emotional cost elephants (and other animals) have to pay to provide for our entertainment.

Think of us

"We are large and heavy and our feet are sore
We are part of a game with a tiny ball
There are long sticks and shouting,
We don't know the score,
We don't understand but we must go forth.
There is cheering and clapping,
We don't make a sound,
We tire very easily thudding the ground,
Can you guess what we are?
Can you guess what we do?
We are elephants, elephants,
Playing polo for you." Maria Daines (http://www.mariadaines.com)

This poem was composed by Maria Daines in defense of the elephants made to perform in this so called 'sport'.

What is Elephant Polo ? (this has been going on in India, Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and other places- with teams often coming from the U.S., U.K., Australia, and around the world).

Per the first internet site: "'Elephant polo' is yet another way of deriving sadistic pleasure by humans in watching the captive jumbos in excruciating pain, for nothing but entertainment of mankind. It is with a lot of pain, torture and abuse that a wild captured elephant is made ready to play the game/ sport of 'elephant polo'. This site is created with a sole purpose to highlight the wrongs of 'elephant polo' which was till recently a subject that we have discussed superficially, but not in depth. While most of us are aware of the wrongs in the circus industry to animals, what we perhaps do not know is the elephants that are made to run for a game of polo are slaves of their masters in this entertainment industry and simply do not enjoy the game as its promoters claim."

"The debate on whether 'elephant polo' is the right thing, picked up momentum after it was flashed in one of the newspapers of India that the state of Rajasthan was gearing up to organise a match of 'elephant polo ' on 18th November' 2006. The controversy whether 'elephant polo' with/ without 'ankush' (the sharp hook to steer an elephant) or cruelty involved, should be allowed has snowballed into perhaps one of the 'BIGGEST' animal rights debate."

"The World's best known legendary elephant experts and individuals heading reputed animal welfare organisations have come forward with their opinions and research and have made them available to the website so that we can understand what exactly goes wrong by organising 'elephant polo'." (Refer to the internet link www.stopelephantpolo.com for full article, and information on the several animal protection groups involved, and for the expert commentaries offered).

"Sadly though 'elephant polo' is played, promoted and supported by a powerful lobby which has its own perception of judging an elephant's welfare. What is more damaging is that the promoters have managed to hoodwink a section of animal people with the promise of raising funds and awareness for the captive elephant conservation in Asia."

"Undoubtledly, funds are essential to run any project of conservation. But is this ethical funding where an elephant is made to beg to raise funds for its welfare? Have all the other sources of ethical funding for animal welfare collapsed? Why should we allow the exploitation of our gentle giants for money so what even if it is to fund the welfare of hundreds of elephants in captivity? We do not treat fellow humans that way, while raising funds for children or senior citizens?"

"This is wrong and this has to END ! To end this all we need is 'POSITIVE NETWORKING', and this 'mantra' is showing its colours fast and steady. We are not very far from the day when 'elephant polo' shall be eradicated from the society, not only in India or Asian countries but across the globe. Our mission is to be able to sensitize the masses and bring the lost glory to the elephants and restore their rights."

"This also goes to alert the vested interest multinational corporate houses to think twice before grabbing the opportunity to sponsor such events which instead may tarnish the age old goodwill of their companies."

"Some of the opinions of these eminent experts who have dedicated much of their lives into working with and for the captive and wild elephants and understanding them has been compiled for the readers in the many pages of this website."

(Here is just one of the well-informed experts voicing their opion. It makes one think of all the elephants out there that are performing for us... because we continue to show up for these events and pay money to support them. It is time for us all to have increased awareness and to know what we are supporting):

"Call for Rajasthan to give up Elephant Polo
Message from Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, DBE MBE MBS DVMS Dated: 1st March' 2007

"As someone who has always respected India's compassion for animals, it seems inconceivable that the City of Jaipur still plays host to Elephant Polo, and tries to fool the world that the Elephants enjoy it, despite hard evidence just a short time ago that a Polo Playing Elephant in Sri Lanka went beserk, injuring people and causing damage to a vehicle. Such anger can hardly signify enjoyment. It signifies a revolt against cruelty and abuse, and it is now time that all caring people also revolted against such cruelty and abuse.

Elephants are not designed to play polo and nor should they.
All who support this cruel activity contribute to the suffering of the Elephants, who have already suffered enormously from the brutal training techniques they endure which no sane person can call humane. I speak with authority about what elephants like and dislike, for I know them well, having hand-reared some 80 of their orphaned young, and rehabilitated them back where they rightly belong - amongst their own kind, and certainly not being forced to play Polo to entertain a public ignorant of the cruelty involved in getting an elephant to this point. I am recognized as a World Authority on the subject of what elephants like and dislike, having reared their orphaned young and worked with elephants for the past 50 years studying behaviour in a wild situation as well as acquiring an in-depth knowledge of the species through saving and rearing their orphaned young and I can categorically tell the world that Elephants should not be forced to play Polo."

Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, DBE MBE MBS DVMS, UNEP 1992 Global Laureate, 2000 BBC Lifetime Achievement Award

Some organizations involved in helping end Elephant Polo and protecting the elephants involved in this inhumane "game" are listed below:

United against elephant polo
David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

Zoo Check, Canada

Jordi Casamitjana
Zoologist and Animal Protection campaigner
The Bornfree Foundation, UK

G.A. Bradshaw, Director, Kerulos Centre for Animal Psychology and Trauma

Gorilla Haven

Animals Asia Foundation

World Society for Protection of Animals ( WSPA )

International Animal Rescue ( IAR ), UK

Advocates for Animals, UK
Founder and Director, Wildlife Friends of Thailand

ACTAsia for Animals

People for Animals ( PFA )

Help in Suffering (HIS)

Elephant Family Foundation

Compassion Unlimited Plus Action ( CUPA )

Compassionate Crusaders Trust ( CCT )

Gujrat SPCA

Wildlife Protection Society of India ( WPSI )

PETA (world) and PETA- India

Blue Cross India


HOPE and Animal Trust

Dr. John Wedderburn, Moderator. Asian Animal Protection Network ( AAPN )

Edward Berry, Moderator, Elephant Commentator


People for Animals- Bangalore

Animals Nepal

Now for the Pros' List: This is from a website from one of the horses' mouths (so to speak), to address some questions on how the elephants are treated. On their website, the lack of unbiased information speaks for itself. When we enjoy doing something, sometimes the impact of our activity has to be seen in the most positive light, in order to keep it going (based on basic Cognitive Dissonance Theory... otherwise, we would experience anxiety about what we are doing, and thus change our ways... as I did with my views on elephant riding- refer to my blog, I certainly am not perfect regarding this, and am learning as I go along).

So on www.tickel-and-the-ivories.com they describe a huge list of "Elephant Polo Rules" that are interesting to read, and to reflect on the statement that the seasoned elephants understand the rules of the game. I have to challenge this idea, as the seasoned elephants likely have received more discipline to learn the game, thus know not to grab the ball with their trunk or they would get punished, etc. There are some facts that are incorrect, or lacking regarding the thickness of the elephants' skin. What is important to know is that the mahouts generally use the Ankush (metal tool) in the most sensitive areas of the elephant (behind or in front of the ears, and on the head/ face, and other areas that are more painful like in the arm pits, etc.). Another stretch is the use of the analogy of comparing the use of elephants in elephant polo to dogs playing frisbee with their owners. I don't see dog owners riding their animals and using sharp metal sticks to correct their dog's behavior. But, this website at least recognizes that there is poor treatment that does go on, I just wish they would see the aspect of exploitation, and that there is harm and fear-based tactics that go along with the training of the elephants to do what they are expected to do during their relatively short time that the team is actually playing Elephant Polo, and riding on the elephants on their team (remember the Crushing Training technique... unfortunately, pain and fear-based control tactics continue through the life of most domesticated elephants, often even under the best circumstances).

So saying that, here are some words from their own website: you decide, or at least I hope you may consider the training methods and treatment of elephants, and think twice about what type of activities you are going to support as far as being a tourist, a patron that donates, or participant:

From the second website: "If your objection to the sport is a little more focused, and is along the lines that you think the mahouts carry sticks and sometimes beat the elephants, then you'd be right. If you think that the elephants 'hurt' when hit, then there is a good chance that you'd be wrong. The mahouts generally carry a bamboo stick and metal prod with a pointy spike which has a name that for now escapes us. Let's agree to call it 'The Prod'. Now consider this:

The elephants are mostly steered by the mahout pressing his feet behind the elephant's ears as well as verbal commands

The bamboo stick will occasionally be used to guide the elephant
The elephants are literally thick skinned (0.8 to 1.6 inches or 2 to 4 cm according to www.chaffeezoo.org )

Good mahouts rarely, if ever, use the prod

The elephants are vociferous animals. They seldom 'complain' when hit which leads us to believe that they don't generally hurt when hit with the bamboo stick

If the mahout drops either the stick or the prod, he will verbally instruct the elephant to pick it up with its trunk. It always does

Experienced elephants have been know to kick the ball through the goals. The experienced players believe they understand what they're doing

During tournaments the elephants exercise more than they normally would and are hence fed more than normal

(Finally the following statements are made, I can only hope that we do not limit the hope for the Asian Elephant to just this): "This is of course anecdotal evidence, but the elephants associated with polo are in fine condition and genuinely seem to enjoy the tournaments. This is not to say that all mahouts in Asia treat their elephants well. There are many which are treated extremely badly. Similarly, the dwindling wild herds often face less-then-pleasant encounters with humanity. It is the firm belief of the team that well-treated working elephants will do more to ensure the survival of the species than simply protecting them in the wild, although this is also a valid and compatible goal.

submit further questions to the team: questions@tickle-and-the-ivories.com"

So You Decide, What do you want the lives and future of the Asian Elephant to be like? Really, we can impact the persevation of this species by first getting informed, through our advocacy, and by what we choose to support.

Also please visit my website @ www.animaldreamers.org


Tot: 2.998s; Tpl: 0.02s; cc: 8; qc: 60; dbt: 0.045s; 2; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.5mb