Meaningful Ways to See Elephants

If you are traveling to Asia, you are probably very excited at the prospect of seeing, even riding elephants. But do you know that around 75% of the world’s captive elephants have been illegally captured, with over 3,000 used for entertainment in Asia alone?

PETA, whose driving force is that animals are not ours to use for entertainment  is highlighting that elephants used for rides are often forcibly separated from their mothers as babies. They are then immobilised with tightly bound ropes, and gouged with bullhooks or nail-studded sticks during “training.”

Please do not accept elephant rides!

Many tour companies are pledging not to promote cruel elephant rides, and if you see someone offering an elephant ride, I urge you NOT TO ACCEPT.

There are some other ways in which you can still enjoy seeing elephants sustainably by visiting small sanctuaries and spotting them in the wild.

Crossing the river at Periyar National Park

Periyar National Park, South India

Periyar National Park in Kerala is one of the most well-preserved natural habitats I have visited. Here you can see the Indian Elephant, a subspecies of the native Asian elephant, in the wild. Take a walking safari at sunrise or sunset and you will most likely spot the elephants hanging out near the river.

The Elephant Transit Home and Yala National Park, Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka is home to a population of up to 4,000 endangered Sri Lankan elephants. While many travelers opt to visit the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, there are some concerns about the treatment of the elephants and ethos of the orphanage.

This is a rehabilitation center for orphaned and injured elephants, with a strict no-contact policy. Visitors here can observe the elephants in a natural atmosphere and see how they interact with one another during feeding time

Pranburi, Thailand

There’s chance to get off the beaten track in Thailand and discover the Wildlife Friends Foundation – an organization rescuing and rehabilitating sick or injured elephants.

Chiang Mai, Thailand

The Elephant Nature Park is located in Northern Thailand outside of Chiang Mai. This park is dedicated to caring for elephants who have endured mistreatment in camps and circuses with more than 35 elephants currently cared for.

Minneriya or Kaudulla National Park, Sri Lanka

Visits to the Minneryiya or Kaudulla National Park gives travelers the opportunity to climb the Sigiriya Rock Fortress, before taking an elephant safari. A jeep Safari in Minneriya or Kaudulla National Park with Rickshaw Travel comes as part of the Elephant‘s in Buddha’s Garden trip.

Adopt an elephant at Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage

Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage, Kenya

Watch baby elephants rescued from all over Kenya at Sheldrick’s Elephant Orphanage as they are fed every morning from 10-11am. There is no physical contact with the elephants though they may come close to you on their own during playtime.

For a $50 annual donation, you can even also foster a baby elephant and receive newsletters with rescue stories.

World Elephant Day

The annual World Elephant Day (12 August) is dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world’s elephants, as many fight to change this fate.

There are two species of elephants: African comprised of two different species (forest and savannah), with less than 400,000 remaining worldwide, and Asian, with less than 40,000 remaining worldwide.

While they are similar in physiology, they are too biologically different to interbreed. Recent scientific findings suggest that the forest-dwelling African elephant is a genetically distinct species, making it a third elephant species. (Courtesy Rickshaw Travel in Travel Alliance Bulletin)

Is This The World’s Most Sustainable Village?

Picture a human female nursing a stray doe with her own breast milk. When I first saw this video in a BBC documentary, I was speechless. It was filmed in a village in Rajasthan, India that I had never heard of before. The lady’s husband found a baby deer who went astray, brought it home, and took care of it until it was ready to go out into the wild again. The documentary showed the close quarters humans and animals share and the loving relationship they have with one another in this village.

My tour group to India in March 2016 and I went to witness this firsthand. We hired a jeep that took us on a half day safari through the Bishnoi community near Jodhpur, gateway city to India’s desert.

bishnoi village

At first glance, we saw nothing unusual. Thatched huts, modest brick homes, dirt roads, open grasslands, cows, farms, etc. School kids waived at us as we drove past. They screamed out all the English words they knew, “Hello, dollar, pencil, I love you, bye!” We passed by the little one story building that was their school. Then we saw wild camels grazing in the field next door. A few deer and antelopes. More cows and buffalos.

Bishnoi is a religious group found in the Western Thar Desert of India, and areas of Punjab, and Sindh in Pakistan. Founder of the religion, Guru Jambheshwar gave the message to protect trees and wildlife around 540 years ago, prophesying that harming the environment means harming yourself. He formulated twenty nine tenets. The tenets were not only tailored to conserve bio-diversity of the area but also ensured a healthy eco-friendly social life for the community.bishnoi village india

It turns out one of the tenets includes providing protection to all animals. Which means that the Bishnoi people allow their agricultural crops to be grazed on by wild animals and predators, only to gather what is left for themselves. This is hard to imaging because the area is dry, people are poor, and there is not much food to go around anyway.

Black bucks migrate from far off lands to the lake in this area, where they are provided ample food and protection against hunting.

black bucks in bishnoi

They are also strictly vegetarian and do not allow the killing of animals. They go to the length of removing each ant or bug from firewood before using it for consumption.

Bison are also known as tree huggers due to an incident that happened in 1730. A local lady, Amrita Devi protested against the Maharaja to not cut trees in the area. 363 villagers died while protecting nature. They do not wear blue clothing as a large quantity of plants are harvested to make blue color dye.

carpet weaver in bishnoi village

During our visit, we stopped at the homes of a potter and carpet weaver to learn about local arts and crafts. Then we ate lunch at the home of Mr. Tulsiram, a Bishnoi villager. We welcomed us to his mud house with warm hospitality. We sat on woven beds and enjoyed a simple yet delicious meal of bajre ki roti (millet bread), daal (lentils), and ker sangri (capers and greens).lunch in bishnoi village Tulsiram encourage me to eat more as he commented, “The only thing I bought for this meal was salt.” Like most people in the village, he grows everything he needs, including oils and spices. Though he doesn’t have much in terms of materialistic things, he is living a very sustainable and fulfilling life. Tulsiram in bishnoi village

29 Rules of Bishnoi Faith

(source: Wikipedia)

  1. Observe 30 days’ state of untouchability after child’s birth
  2. Observe 5 days’ segregation while a woman is in her menses
  3. Bath early morning
  4. Obey the ideal rules of life: Modesty
  5. Obey the ideal rules of life: Patience or satisfactions
  6. Obey the ideal rules of life: Purifications
  7. Perform Sandhya two times a day
  8. Eulogise their God, Vishnu, in evening hours (Aarti)
  9. Perform Yajna (Havan) every morning
  10. Filter water, milk and firewood
  11. Speak pure words in all sincerity
  12. Adopt the rule of forgiveness and pity
  13. Don’t steal and not keep any intention to do it also
  14. Do not condemn or criticize
  15. Don’t lie
  16. Don’t waste the time on argument
  17. Fast on Amavashya and offer prayers to Vishnu
  18. Have pity on all living beings and love them
  19. Do not cut green trees, save the environment
  20. Crush lust, anger, greed and attachment
  21. Accept food and water from our purified people only
  22. Provide a common shelter for male goat/sheep to avoid them being slaughtered in abattoirs
  23. Don’t sterilise ox
  24. Don’t use opium
  25. Don’t take smoke and use tobacco
  26. Don’t take bhang or hemp
  27. Don’t take wine or any type of liquor
  28. Don’t eat meat, remain always pure vegetarian
  29. Never use blue clothe

Rescuing the Island’s Donkeys

Donkeys are not native to the island of Bonaire. They were brought here by the Spanish in the 17th century to be used as modes of transportation and for hard labor.

Today, there is not practical use for the feral donkeys. They walk around freely and unfortunately are victims of motor accidents, dehydration and hunger.

It was about time someone stepped in and took care of these friendly animals. In 1993 Dutch Nationals, Marina Melis and her husband Ed Koopman, established a donkey sanctuary on Bonaire for sick, wounded and orphaned donkeys: Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire.

donkey sanctuary

The Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire provides a sheltered, protected life to over 400 donkeys in Bonaire. It is open to tourists, schools and community members who want to know more about donkeys, have a fun day sightseeing, or want to volunteer.

Walking into the sanctuary grounds, you can see Marina or one of her volunteers addressing the needs of the residents with food, water and medical care. She was bandaging a broken leg of a 4 months old pup during my visit. The baby would be given physical therapy so he walks on 4 legs and kept in a secluded area (with a donkey doll) for few hours each day to rest.

She shows me a separate pen where mothers and foals can stay together, so they don’t feel threatened. The orphans are raised with a baby bottle, till they can eat themselves. There is also an elderly pen for the donkeys who take time to eat and might not otherwise be able to get to their food.

donkey old home

Visitors can drive through the sanctuary in their vehicle (very slowly to avoid accidents) and be greeted by hundreds of donkeys. They come to the cars, sniff your belonging, give you kisses, and rub against your door. The donkeys here are not afraid of humans as they have become accustomed to love and friendship.

donkey kisses

There is a viewing tower where one can get off and climb a few steps to get a nice look at the sanctuary grounds. With wild shrubs and barren lands, this map feel like the serenity. Bring your binoculars so you can see a sole donkey taking a nap in one of the shelters, or playing with her baby under a tree.

donkey serengeti

On the way out, visit the rescued iguanas and turtles too. The Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire is a small nonprofit that runs independently. Here are some ways to get involved:

Adopt a donkey

For US$175 per year you can adopt a donkey. You receive an adoption certificate and a photo of your donkey that, of course, continues to live with us at the sanctuary. Periodically, you will receive from us news about your donkey and you will be kept informed about our activities. We hope you will find many opportunities to visit your donkey!

Donate

From just US$ 50 per year you can become a donor and help enormously with the care of the donkeys. Direct donations toward feed, water, medicine is possible too.

volunteer at donkey sanctuary

Volunteer

The sanctuary is run entirely by volunteers and long term internship and volunteer programs are possible. Help with cleaning, feeding, management, gift shop, etc. Marina prefers a minimum 6 weeks commitment as the donkeys take some time to form human attachment.

Donkey Sanctuary Bonaire is open for visitors daily from 10.00 until 17.00 hours. Tours by car, scooter, bike, or on foot. The entrance fee is US $7 for adults. Children up to 12 years only pay US $3.50. Adopters receive free entrance for 2 persons from their family.