Not a soul in sight since the Indian Government announced nationwide lockdown beginning from 22nd March 2020, owing to the rapidly growing cases of the Coronavirus pandemic that have led to over 450 deaths all over the country. With the nationwide lockdown being imposed and strict repercussions levied on being spotted on the streets, all national heritage sites and monuments, as well as national parks, have been shut down for access to the public. The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic has hugely affected the tourism industry, and henceforth the livelihood that came with it, especially in the states of Kerala and Rajasthan, that were most popular for elephant joyrides for tourists. As these elephant owners thrived on the income from tourists, with no tourists allowed to enter the States, the elephants breathe a much-deserved sigh of relief as they no longer spend their day in the monotonous painstaking routine of climbing on concrete fort roads with the overbearing weight of a carrier crushing their spirit and hurting their back or walking around confined temple spaces.
For the elephants in the South of India, who were not only used for elephant joyrides but also as temple elephants living their life on whatever little “donation” offered by the devotees, the COVID-19 crisis and subsequent lockdown has been a breath of fresh air. Usually lauded with heavy chains, painted with bright colours and adorned with heavy clothes to hide the scars that are a host to their body, these elephants had a tiring routine of walking the unnatural stone surfaces of the temple premises daily, feeding on sweets or prasad given to them by people who would come to offer prayers. The outbreak of coronavirus and the rapid spread of it, in South India, has led to all places of worship being closed for people as a large congregation of people will not help the situation.
As the elephants find relief in this short period of freedom, there is another uncertainty that lurks around the future of these gentle giants. The State governments of Kerala and Rajasthan have made the necessary arrangements for their survival by providing monetary support to the elephant owners. With over 500 jumbos in Kerala and as many as 300 in Rajasthan not being paraded around for rides, temple processions and festivals, the elephant owners are gradually worrying about where their lives are headed! It takes a lot of money to take care of an elephant including fruits, fodder and sugarcanes as well as medical expenses, but with limited resources of sustenance and most of the resources being divided by overburdened medical facilities, the elephants’ survival is indeed a worrying part.
The outbreak of coronavirus, that has paused the world in global lockdowns, sealed borders and limited movement, has also given a chance for us all to reflect on our actions, as well as the undue advantage that we have taken of the environment. Our deeply misjudged perception of animals and their plight is the reason the world is in neck-deep crisis like this, that has caused death to an unsurmountable level and may just be the deadliest incident the world has had to deal with since the World Wars!
In the end, it brings to light this crucial question – would the world be paralysed in a global crisis, if those who belong in the wild would stay in the wild? Would the elephants used for minting money be allowed this break and not deserve it if they would be in the wild?
These troubled times call for the world to unite and speak for the voiceless, by encouraging responsible tourism. Visit www.refusetoride.org to learn how to be a part of the change and help the elephants by signing our petition!