Protesters cycled around Jaipur on Sunday, demanding an end to elephant tours at the city’s Amber Fort.
The World Animal Protection charity organised the protest, held in the Indian state of Rajasthan, to mark World Elephant Day. The campaign aims to boost the use of bicycles to replace elephants as a means of transport for tourists visiting the ancient structure.
The world’s largest land animals are used to carry travellers along the kilometre-long path that winds uphill to Agra Fort. The elephants have to grapple with cobbled footpaths and a steep hill climb all while bearing the weight of tourists and the thick wooden chairs that they sit on.
The protests are not the first time activists have spoken out about elephant tours in Jaipur. Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) are already fighting a case against the activity in the Indian courts.
As well as harsh training methods used to tame elephants so that they can carry tourists, protesters are concerned about health issues such as malnourishment, blindness and leg or foot injuries.
According to Peta, elephants are some of the world’s most abused animals when forced to entertain the public by “giving” rides.
Whether born in captivity or captured from the wild, the mammals need to undergo significant emotional and mental conditioning before people can safely climb on to their backs. This is why elephant calves are snatched away from their mothers at a very early age. In the wild, the babies stay with their herd for years, and the females remain with their family for their whole lives.
This World Elephant Day, adventure travel company Intrepid Travel also also raising awareness of elephants in tourism with the launch of a travel confessions Twitter campaign. Using social media, Intrepid Travel encourages tourists to admit their "responsible travel mistakes" in an effort to promote conversation about the plight of elephants.
Kicking off today, the campaign asks travellers to admit if they’ve ever naively ridden an elephant. It also advises people not to feel too guilty about it.
“In today’s responsible travel world, we’ve learnt that riding elephants, along with any other exploitation or mistreatment of animals at venues such as circuses or theme parks, simply isn’t cool any more,” states Intrepid Travel’s website.
“This isn’t about reprimanding anyone who has ridden an elephant in the past – we’ve all made mistakes,” said James Thornton, chief executive of Intrepid Travel.
“It’s vital that we keep the conversation going and continue to educate travellers about ethical animal tourism,” he added.
Social media users can join the conversation using the hashtags #worldelephantday and #stopelephantrides
Singapore has also announced plans to ban the domestic sale of elephant ivory on World Elephant Day. The law will come into effect from 2021 as part of the government’s campaign against illegal wildlife trades.