By Ariyana Khan
Edited by Arham Ahmed and Adeeb Chowdhury
It was the end of another day of school. My eyes drooped with fatigue and I dozed off. I was awoken by the excited voice of my younger brother shrieking ‘Elephant! Elephant!’. Looking outside the car’s window, I spotted an elephant 10 to 12 inches away from the car. All my exhaustion disappeared at the sight of it because this was the first time I had seen an elephant from such proximity. The elephant stood rigidly in front of another car. I thought it was a wild elephant which had somehow lost its way and ended up in the city. This caused me to panic because I had read of instances where elephants had gone berserk in the city. However, my confusion was cleared in the next few minutes. The elephant was offered a 20 taka note by the driver of the car which it gracefully lifted using its trunk and handed over to its mahout obediently. Ever since that day, I have seen such a scenario several times; at times they were also seen ‘begging’ at shops. Initially this amazed me; this poverty-struck country now found a new source of income. However, upon learning how brutally these elephants are trained for such purposes, I was appalled.
Begging elephants are a common sight in India and Thailand and now Bangladesh too has joined the league. Elephants have been marked as one of the most endangered species in the world and such activities on our part is only exacerbating the issue. Such beguiling acts of elephants amaze us but have we ever thought about how they learn to do these? Of course, they are not born with these skills. Neither can they be taught in the way we teach our children nor in the way are students taught at school. So how do they learn? The level of abuse that elephants have to go through in order to become submissive is beyond our imagination. Elephants are taken as calves which involve their family being driven away or killed. The calf is then taken to a remote location and beaten. It has been scientifically proven that elephants have highly developed emotions. After seeing their family murdered or driven away right in front of their eyes, their mental state is enervated. They are tied down and beaten with sticks, rocks and billhooks; sometimes they have fires set underneath them. This continues until the calf becomes submissive.
4 years ago, an Indian elephant called Laxmi who was used for begging in the streets of Maharashtra, was saved by the Wildlife SOS organization in India. The negligible exercise the elephant got, coupled with copious amounts of incredibly unhealthy food she was consuming took a predictably devastating toll on her health; she got progressively obese to a point where she could barely stand. Moreover, her feet, joints, footpads and nails were also in a poor state from walking in the hot tarred roads for long hours which seared them. There are more such Laxmis who are perhaps suffering the same fate and if we do not take action anytime soon to protect these elephants, Our future generations will know elephants as extinct species,
Besides the detrimental effect that this trend of begging has on elephants, a huge threat is also posed to the city dwellers. What if the elephant being used to beg goes berserk? We cannot fathom the great loss of life and property that this will cause. Also, an interesting part is these elephants are trained in such a manner that unless they are given a certain amount of money, they do not leave. What if someone refuses to give the money? This again could cause the elephant to get aggressive. In addition, Chittagong is a city tangled in the overriding problem of traffic congestion and this issue of begging elephants is only a further cause of extension to the problem.
Since this trend of begging elephant is still at its initial stage in Bangladesh, it will be easier for us to curb it by taking appropriate steps. The government could ban the usage of elephants for begging. This will require close monitoring on the roads and even on remote areas where elephants might be kept hidden. The wildlife laws in the country must be strengthened, reformed and implemented more strictly. It is important that we understand that people who resort to using elephants for begging as a source of income do so because they perhaps have no other source of livelihood. So it is vital that alternative sources of livelihood are created for them. They could, for example, be trained to work in wildlife conservation and protection organizations. Furthermore, organizations like the Wildlife SOS organization in India could be set up to track down elephants that are being used for begging and other purposes that pose a threat to their existence.
To end, the nature and its associates are all invaluable assets that we have been gifted with.
Elephants are living beings just like us. Just because they do not protest, does not mean that we will go on exploiting them. After all as Mahatma Gandhi said- ‘The greatness of a nation can be judged by the way its animals are treated’.
About the Author
Journalist of the Global Environment and Health department
Ariyana is a student of Chittagong Grammar School. Besides reading, she likes writing, baking and getting to know about things unknown to her. The celestial body is her favourite topic of discussion. Ariyana can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org.