The more I travel, the more I am finding myself thinking about the social and environmental problems that the world is facing. I feel that whilst living in Australia I was sheltered and shielded from the worst of the worlds problems by the media and now that I am travelling I am discovering the ugly truth. It’s not that any of the information was hidden from me it’s just that it was never in my face, so I never felt compelled to research these topics.
For example, one thing I had always wanted to do was ride an elephant. In Chitwan National Park in Nepal you can go on an elephant safari into the park and see things like rhino’s and other animals from the back of an elephant. How awesome does that sound??
My first elephant encounter was in India. I was visiting a temple and I walked inside and to my surprise I discovered an elephant standing in an area set aside for her off to the side near the entrance. There were people standing nearby offering her banana’s and giving it a coin or small note in exchange for a blessing (the elephant puts its trunk on your head). You could walk up and pat the trunk and the elephant seemed pretty happy, overall it was a really nice experience for me. I went back the next day as I was going past just to see the elephant again and everything was completely different. There was a chain around her leg and she seemed agitated. The magic from yesterday was gone.
I later discovered that the elephant had been at the temple for 26 years and was taken from the wild as a baby. Now all she does every day is stand there and take money from people which she then passes back to her handler. That is no way for an elephant to live.
By the time I reached Chitwan National Park I had already decided that elephant riding was not an option for me. I did however decide to go and watch the “elephant bathing” in the river, which I had heard was a nice experience and the elephants were treated well. When I arrived there was a crowd of people surrounding someone on the ground who was sitting up but didn’t look so good. A minute later there was a guy on back of an elephant hitting it on the head with a big stick really hard. I noticed another elephant handler was on the back of another elephant rider holding a rock. My friends and I just left, we didn’t want to watch this.
Me later met some people who had been there the whole time and they told us that the elephant had gotten upset with the handler and knocked him down and stomped on him. The guy we saw died that day on the way to the hospital in the ambulance.
Sri Lanka has an enviable elephant conservation program with many national parks and a high elephant population. I met up with my family to travel there for a couple of weeks and one of the things on the itinerary of our driver was to visit an elephant orphanage. Alarm bells started ringing. We did some google searches about this place and discovered that they were more about profit than protecting elephants and there were a lot of red flags. During my search I came across a lot of information about how elephants are trained and broken in and I was appalled to say the least. I am not going to go into any detail now but just google “should I go elephant riding” and you can read about how horrible it is for hours.
In the end we chose to visit some national parks and see the elephants in the wild. This was a magical experience and much better than anything that could be manufactured for tourists. There is nothing like the thrill of seeing a wild animal in its national habitat happy and healthy.
In reality I probably never would have found out about all of this stuff if I had just stayed in Australia. This is an example of one of the many new things I have learnt on this trip which is making me more conscientious and making me think more about the impact humans are having on the planet and on each other. I definitely feel that my awareness levels are at an all time high and I want to do more to help change things.