Aid afoot for Jaipur elephants

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, September 2001:

JAIPUR–To call the 90-odd tourist elephants of Jaipur
“neglected” presents a paradox. Among the most photographed animals
in India, they attract constant attention as they amble up to 10
times a day through the 18th century Pink City and climb the mountain
to the 16th century Amber Fort of Akbar the Great and his son
Sacrifices of goats and other animals carried out almost
continuously at the Amber Fort temple to Kali, the blood goddess,
recall the harsher side of Akbar, the conqueror/ prophet who united
much of India by proclaiming religious tolerance and trying to
synthesize Islam and Hinduism.

The Hanuman languors swarming over the Amber Fort represent
Akbar’s fondness for wildlife–he founded a wildlife preserve on the
opposite mountainside, so that he could see the animals from his
palace–while the elephants symbolize his military strength.
Paradoxically for a warrior king who practiced blood
sacrifice, Akbar reputedly detested cruelty. He abolished the
custom of burning widows, sought to replace rule by force with rule
by civil administration, and required that his animals get the best
of care.
Yet the elephants toiling in his memory endure grossly
deficient health care, Wildlife Trust of India founder Vivek Menon
and Help In Suffering trustee Christine Townend found at a four-day
free clinic offered to the elephants’ keepers in late August 2001.
The clinic was co-sponsored by the International Fund for Animal
Welfare and the Rajasthan Tourism Development Corp.
“So far, the mahouts and elephant owners have been doing
what they can with home remedies,” Menon told Times of India news
network reporter Chandrika Nago. “But the elephants need better
nutrition, more space, dry bedding, and well-padded houdahs,” so
that the weight of tourists does not give them sore backs.
The basic problem, said Menon, is that Jaipur is not really
elephant habitat. Wild elephants and experienced domestic elephant
keepers are found throughout the rest of India, but Jaipur is at the
southeastern edge of the Rajasthan desert. Elephants exist there
only if someone brings them. There is no elephant veterinarian in
Jaipur, Menon said.
“All the elephants were assessed by elephant experts from
Kerala,” said Townend. “Most were dehydrated, with cracked and
burnt feet due to walking on the tarmac, being walked too far every
day, and being kept chained in excrement, with nowhere for them to
bathe. Due to the poor monsoon of the last three years, the lake
near Amber is empty,” Townend explained.
The elephant clinic reportedly trained about 20 Jaipur vets
in basic elephant care, and taught mahouts how to give their
elephants a better diet using local produce.
Menon expressed hope that the Rajasthan Tourism Development
Corporation might eventually start a permanent elephant care facility
in Jaipur. The Help In Suffering animal hospital and shelter, near
the southern edge of Jaipur, is too far from the Pink City and Amber
Fort to accommodate the elephants, who work mainly at the northern
end of the fast-expanding city.
[Contact Help In Suffering c/o Maharani Farm, Durgapura,
Jaipur, Rajasthan 302018, India; <>.]

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