• Gillian Keegan

Shaku the bombproof elephant

Close to the working elephant ‘village’ in Jaipur is a group that’s making a difference. Elephantastic works with domesticated elephants to help people understand how amazing these creatures are. ‘We used to do rides up the fort and weddings’ said Rahul, the manager. The elephants would traipse tourists around on their backs, surrounded by noise, firecrackers and the general pandemonium that is India. After a few years, however, the realisation that elephants are sensitive beings hit home so he removed them from the streets and turned his troupe out to graze.

Here's what they have to say about their sanctuary - see www.elefantastic.in

'Anchored by the conviction that an Elephant Sanctuary provides a critical foundation for breaking the cycle of elephant tourism in Jaipur, Elefantastic works for domesticated elephants of Jaipur with low-income, marginalized caretaker families to run a sanctuary, to provide welfare services and to raise awareness for Asian elephants.Since its inception in 2012, Elefantastic has touched the lives of over 6,050 people across the world through our Human-Elephant Interaction Program in Jaipur (As of 16 November, 2016). Elefantastic’s long term strategic goal for 2016-20 is to impact the lives of 1,00,000 individuals and help them learn and be up-close with Asian elephants while supporting our up-keep'

Elephants working in the tourist industry in Jaipur. They will make the trip up and down to the fort many times a day.

After visiting the Amber Fort and seeing the highly decorated working elephants slowly processing up the steep winding road with excited (ignorant) tourists, it was with a sigh of relief that we were introduced to Shaku, a 28 year old female Asian elephant, who stood, completely without restraint, munching sugar cane and looking calmly towards us.

‘Say hello!’ urged Rahul. I held the Bear back, used to his ninja moves and visualising a spooking elephant mowing us down. Shaku proved oblivious - as a pony she would be advertised as ‘bombproof’ or a ‘mother’s dream’! So we walked up to this beautiful girl and I placed my hands on the top of her trunk. Her skin was warm and rough, but she felt delicate. It was quite emotional standing in front of her huge head, her ears swishing away the odd fly. She 'spoke' to another elephant nearby as I had my hands on her nose and I felt these amazing deep vibrations, accompany a gentle call to her friend

We fed her bundles of sugar cane asking her to take it “lay Shaku’. Occasionally she’d get one not to her liking and toss it aside. Her favourite treat was bread and she got very giddy when a white loaf was produced (although apparently chapati are her favourite and she’ll eat around 50 a day!!!) as she saw the bread she did away with her trunk altogether and just opened her mouth. My hand brushed on her tongue as I loaded her up! I’m not sure she even chewed it...

We then took her for a walk, again with no restraints. She definitely took it at her own pace, which was slower than slow itself. We walked ahead to find the Bear who had run off with the farm’s friendly pitbull on an adventure of his own. When Shaku lost sight of us we were amazed to hear her trumpeting, calling out and telling us that she was coming!

My favourite part was giving her a wash at the end. I was told to scrub her toenails and then give her a drink. She held out her trunk and I had to fill it up with the hosepipe. She then poured it into her mouth!

I felt very privileged to experience interacting with such an incredible animal, and happy that we had supported a business that is trying to break the working elephant cycle. Ultimately, however, in the perfect world, there would be no domesticated elephants being used at all. I was still very conscious that I didn't want to add to elephant exploitation in a more general sense. In a developing country such as India, though, I think that we have to applaud the small steps being taken in the right direction, and the need to balance the lives of the people on the edge of poverty with the right to earn a living. We thoroughly enjoyed our day and are so grateful for an unforgettable opportunity.


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