Have you ever seen an elephant on the roads and thought, “I wonder how it feels, being forced to walk on tar roads, in the hot sun, among potholes and a crass cacophony of car horns…”
If you’ve dismissed your concerns with “Oh, whatever, I’m sure that elephant is fine”, please think again.
In the July of 2007, a ban was implemented on elephants on the streets of Mumbai. Why? Because the poor elephants are often mistreated. They are mostly underfed (out of 24 hours in a day, wild elephants spend 18 foraging for food…basically, they eat a lot). City elephants suffer from skin ailments, eye cataracts, spend most of their time chained up and unable to move and have a really sad and boring life, separated from their loved ones at a really young age. (Yeah, loved ones. Elephants have a complex social network, and they even mourn their dead relatives.) Plus, despite their bulk and size, elephants have delicate feet, and can’t walk on the hot city roads. Basically, elephants and cities just don't mix well.
It’s really great that Mumbai authorities have banned this and tried to make provision for their rehabilitation. It has greatly improved their lives. However, people continue to use elephants for begging in many parts of India and I really think it should stop. There are 3600 working elephants in India, 1000 of which work in Assam, in the logging industry. A working life is too cruel for them, and I hope that this practice will soon stop for good.
(This post was published in the Hindustan Times - HT Cafe, City Beat, City Culture page on April 6, 08. Retitled "Jumbo Walk")