“We cannot always undo the past, but we can learn and hopefully lead the way. This is what Tiger Tops Elephant Camp are doing with guidance from Elephant Aid International’s Carol Buckley. A Compassionate Voice’s latest guest blogger is Dino DVE, who is passionate about elephant welfare and hopes Tiger Tops are setting a new standard for elephant tourism in Asia”
Is there a better way to interact with captive elephants? Actually, there is.
When I saw young Sandra Kali surrounded by her group of friends, I realised she was the favourite among the elephant herd. The other females seemed to be really fond of her. They would use their trunks to reach out to Sandra Kali and show her their deep affection. They made physical contact from time to time, while the rest of us admired them as we were following them into the jungle.
The luscious wilderness, the shade under the trees, the sound of the insects and the water in the river flowing nearby, provided the perfect scene for our interaction with the elephants. Walking alongside with them is one of those moments in life that you will never be able to forget.
Before I moved to Nepal, doing a jungle safari in the back of an elephant sounded so adventurous. I remember reading on travel guides how the exotic deal was offered here. That changed soon after I found out about the way elephants were chained during long hours, beaten and neglected (and some, even blinded on purpose). It didn’t sound exciting anymore. It didn’t sound right and there was no way I could justify being on top of an elephant after what I had learn. Once you know you can’t not know, right? It took me almost four years before I finally decided to go to Chitwan. Something had to change before I would encourage my family and friends to go with me. And it did.
Thanks to the visionary approach of Tiger Tops Elephant Camp, the pioneer in conservation and responsible tourism in Nepal, we were able to enjoy a memorable experience that needs to be shared with the world. And I do mean it when I say I want the world to know about this place. They did what no one else in the industry has thought of: it has dropped its elephant rides. It has freed its elephants from chains. It has built spacious green areas for them to roam around freely. It has given its elephants freedom from work. Because of that, Sandra Kali who is only nine years old, can now enjoy a great life in retirement, together with the other 11 elephants in the herd.
A typical day in the lives of these lucky elephants starts with a nutritious breakfast and exercise, followed by elephant sandwiches called kuchi, which consist of fodder, fruit and leaves. Afterwards, they are free to walk (or play) for hours in their green areas and then, they are taken to the river to bathe. On their way there, they stop to eat fresh grass and their favourite plants. Sandra Kali and friends live by the buffer zone, which is a vast forested area, located close to the Chitwan National Park. It is truly an amazing experience to see how they select, pull, cut and even clean the shrubs they eat. These elephants live in their natural habitat and although they can’t live inside the jungle, they are just a few minutes away.
Being that close to an elephant is a dreamlike experience. When you realise that you are able to see every detail in their face like the wrinkles in their skin, their huge and thick eyelashes and the long hair under their chin, without contributing to any sort of cruelty, something tells you you are as lucky as you can be. It also makes you wonder why there
aren’t more places like Tiger Tops Elephant Camp, where outdated practices are left behind, giving way to humane, progressive and sustainable methods.
Dropping elephant rides is absolutely unheard of in any private resorts in Asia, big or small. Tour operators, hotels, travel agents and freelancers promote elephant rides for both foreign and local tourists. That is why Tiger Tops Elephant Camp deserves so much credit, as they are ahead of the game. They are paving the way forward. No one there, except for the mahout (handler) is allowed to ride the elephants. The reason for that is because elephants are afraid of tigers. In the event that a tiger appears, the elephant feels safer with the mahout on her neck, to guide and reassure her. They develop a long-term relationship.
After this fantastic experience, I truly wish that in our lifetime we will see other responsible businesses follow Tiger Tops Elephant Camp‘s footsteps. Meanwhile, we need to spread the happy news about their elephants and how with a change of mind and heart, what once seemed impossible is now very real.
So, next time you hear people ask “Is there a better way to interact with captive elephants?” You can say “Yes, it’s called Tiger Tops Elephant Camp.”
On Instagram: @ElephantSoulCrafts