I spent July 4 celebrating not only the independence of America but also the first lodge in Chitwan to allow their elephants to go chain free and eliminate the practice of elephant rides.
The process of obtaining and training elephants for elephant rides is truly terrible, and their lives after they’ve been trained aren’t much better. Tourists who choose to ride elephants help promote unethical practices and mistreatment of elephants.
Shortly after my arrival in Nepal, I met Carol Buckley, the founder of Elephant Aid International. She is the leading spokesperson and expert witness for elephant care and protection nationally and internationally. She works with governmental agencies and private organizations to strengthen regulations protecting the welfare of elephants in captivity. She comes to Nepal several times a year to do elephant care and advocate for elephant’s rights.
Carol spoke to us about our responsibility to elephants and power of our tourist dollars to create change. She encouraged us to support places like Tiger Tops, and decline elephant rides at other lodges while explaining why we choose not to ride. The only way to better these elephants’ lives is make sure the lodges understand that tourists don’t want elephants to be mistreated.
Carol also shared with us pictures of the damage that is done to the elephant’s backs, spines, and tails by the saddles and chains they are forced to wear. It was truly heartbreaking to learn what is done to these majestic animals for the sake of tourism.
I expect that if I hadn’t gone to the talk, I probably would’ve ridden elephants just like everyone else. It never even occurred to me that the elephants could be injured, sick, or even mistreated for my benefit.
Once you know, this isn’t something you can un-know. So when the opportunity came to go to Tiger Tops and support their efforts in ethical tourism, I was all in. I wasn’t disappointed. While we didn’t ride the elephants, we spent time with them as they took their baths and walked through the jungle with them while they ate. We also visited them in their spacious, chain-free enclosures.
This year, I’ve had several opportunities to put my tourism dollars towards trips that are doing good in the world. And I believe that post-earthquake Nepal needs tourism now more than ever. While voluntourism seems all the rage, the truth is that plain, old tourism provides jobs and opportunities to advocate for people and creatures alike. If you search out the right opportunities, you can make some change in the world. Now that’s a vacation to feel good about!