The plight of a collapsed elephant in India shows why tourists should refuse to ride

Elephant Moti from India receiving medical care from the Wildlife SOS team after years as a tourist begging elephant
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An Asian elephant named Moti has been lying collapsed on the ground since at least 22 January. The 35-year-old elephant is essentially unable to stand up after years working in India as a tourist begging elephant.

Moti’s dire predicament illustrates why action against unethical tourism, such as elephant rides, is vital. The UK took a step closer to such action on 3 February, when a bill that should ban the promotion and sales of unethical tourism passed its second reading in parliament.

Moti in extremely concerning condition

Indian nonprofit Wildlife SOS has been with Moti since 22 January, when its veterinary team travelled to his location. On its website, the organisation explained that as a begging elephant, Moti would have given “countless rides” to people, i.e. tourists. Now, he’s in a “very poor condition”, including being malnourished. Blood tests have also shown potential liver and kidney issues.

Read on...

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Over the last two weeks, Wildlife SOS has administered treatment on-site because Moti can’t stand up. This is partly due to the fact that one of his foot pads is detached, which must be extremely painful. Moreover, one of his legs is heavily swollen, although this has reduced somewhat with treatment.

Wildlife SOS would ideally like to get Moti to its elephant hospital rather than giving roadside care. But this requires him being able to get to his feet. When the nonprofit attempted to lift him on 2 February with the use of a crane, Moti couldn’t bear weight on any of his legs. It explained that:

An elephant’s movement is critical to circulation and healing, so his continued lack of movement has our team extremely concerned.

The organisation highlighted that his appetite and drinking has improved, which is a good sign. But the longer Moti stays grounded, the more uncertain his future becomes.

Most recently, Wildlife SOS reached out to the army for assistance. The army’s Madras Engineer Group, known as the Madras Sappers, had aided the organisation to rescue a collapsed elephant called Sidda in 2016.

A team of Bengal Sappers arrived at Moti’s location early on 6 February. They’re building a structure, known as a kraal, that Moti can be suspended from, in a bid to get him to his feet.

Wildlife SOS’s co-founder and CEO Kartick Satyanarayan said:

This is such a patriotic effort to help India’s heritage animal and an endangered species. We are also grateful to the Forest Department and the custodian of Moti elephant for their cooperation and support.

Refuse to ride

Wildlife SOS is urging tourists to “refuse to ride” elephants, due to the suffering that individuals like Moti go through as a result:

The injuries that tourism elephants can sustain from working in the industry make up only part of their suffering. Abuse is part and parcel of existence for many individuals. Their training for tourism, for example in places like India, can involve being beaten, crushed and starved, among other abuses.

Due to this, a bill is currently making its way through parliament in the UK. The Animals (Low-Welfare Activities Abroad) Bill aims to prohibit the advertising and sale of overseas activities that “involve low standards of welfare for animals”.

On 3 February, MPs debated the bill for the first time. Although the session wasn’t well-attended, most MPs present spoke out in support of the bill. As Save the Asian Elephants (STAE) highlighted on Twitter, MPs voted the bill through at that reading:

The bill will now progress to its committee stage, where it will face examination and possible changes.

Self-regulation isn’t working

As STAE has pointed out, the bill will potentially benefit many species used in tourism, such as big cats, apes, dolphins, and more.

The organisation insists that change will not happen without legislative action, arguing that industry self-regulation has failed. STAE, for example, says that it has identified no less than 1,200 companies operating in the UK market that advertise venues implicated in brutality against elephants.

Moreover, India and Thailand, where elephant-related tourism is common, are popular destinations among UK travellers. And as World Animal Protection’s report, titled ‘Taken for a ride’, highlighted: 36% of Thailand tourists surveyed in 2014 took elephant rides, or planned to, during their visits. In short, the UK’s involvement in elephant-related tourism, both in terms of travellers and tourism companies, is considerable.

For the sake of elephants in and outside of tourist venues  – and other captive wild animals – a crackdown on unethical tourism in places like India can’t come soon enough.

Featured image and embedded image via Wildlife SOS

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Get involved

  • Sign Wildlife SOS’s Refuse to Ride petition, where it calls on the Indian government to retire all elderly, disabled, and injured elephants.

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