I was in Jaipur, India for this year’s annually celebrated Elephant Festival held in the so-called ‘pink’ city two weeks ago. The Elephant Festival is supposed to be held to celebrate Holi, an Indian festival that fills every street with colour to inaugurate the spring season. The festival, held at the Rajasthan Polo Grounds, boasted a plethora of Jaipur’s finest talent: dancers in traditional garb, singers thrilling foreign audiences with folk songs, and turban-tying competitions that left the tourists in a twist. This year’s elephant festival however, was conspicuously missing one thing: the elephants.
The cavalcade of elephants, pimped-out so to speak, for a beauty competition which is usually followed by a tug-of-war and an elephant polo match – as it turns out – was flagged by animal rights’ activists from PETA as a cause of serious ill-treatment of the animals, with the Mahouts using inhumane techniques such as iron hooks to train the elephants.
So, whilst many tourists were disappointed at the lack of jumbo-sized pageantry at Jaipur this year, Rajasthan Department of Tourism’s decision to scrap the elephant festival was a decisive gain for the elephants themselves. Assistant Director of Tourism Department of Rajasthan, Upendra Singh Shekhawa passed the buck to the state-controlled Animal Welfare Board, stating “The Animal Welfare Board of India had written to us that there is some violation of exhibiting the elephants. That is why; we are going whatever they are saying. We will adopt whatever they want”.
PETA activist Sarvgya Bhargil, explained the problem more clearly, stating that the elephants used in the festival are given insufficient food and are chained into tight spaces by their Mahout handlers, causing them to develop foot infections and arthritis. He also argued against the use of performing animals as keeping elephants and camels in captivity for long periods of time restricts their natural social behaviour and can induce health problems and loneliness.
The Elephant Festival is a clear example of how irresponsible tourism can be. The cancellation of this year’s Elephant Festival should stand as a precedent to stop the cruel treatment of performing animals in India.