Speaking for elephants


Lisa Choegyal’s column ‘The Elephant Dilemma’, 4 October 2020 elicited many comments from readers, some of which are excerpted here:

  • As a group of animal welfare organisations we have to disagree with Lisa Choegyal’s stand on elephant safaris.

Just because elephants are part of Nepal’s heritage does not mean traditions should not change. Many outdated practices have been abandoned, including widow sacrifice and child labour, because they were against the ethics of the time. In any case, even if elephant tourism stopped today, elephants would remain an integral part of Nepal’s heritage.

Just because elephants in Nepal are not used in ‘alien’ environments such as beaches and temples, does not mean that Chitwan’s tourist safaris are ‘natural’. Most elephants live in ‘unnatural’ shelters, usually a simple structure of zinc sheet with 4 poles. They are tied 24/7 unless taken for a ride. With a lack of fresh greens, their diet is ‘unnatural’. Even the carrying of four tourists and a mahout is ‘unnatural’:  even though elephants look invincible, science says that their skeleton is not designed to carry great weight on top of their spines.

Just because of a concern for loss of tourism, elephant riding and bathing does not need to be continued. The quick growth of non-contact tourism projects across the world shows there is great potential. Nepal introduced many humane alternatives for safaris (by canoe, car or on foot) and a pioneer company has already unchained its elephants. There is a growing market for a more ethical kind of tourism that involves elephants, be it in sanctuaries, elephant walking or viewing, kuchi and paper making, etc.

We feel there is enough evidence to show that elephant safaris generally are a cruel business. We have shown that over 80% of elephants live under ‘unsuitable conditions’. This is in line with World Animal Protection’s more recent findings that claim that more than three-quarter of captive elephants are kept in ‘severely-cruel conditions’.

Other groups have used video evidence to show present training techniques certainly do not ‘mostly employ kindness and positive reinforcement’. Instead sharp objects, fire, fireworks and noise continue to be used to break in young elephants. Even the presumption that Nepal’s safari elephants are no longer taken from the wild cannot be confirmed. The origins of elephants brought in from India are largely unknown as there is no proper documentation and no government control.

Ms Choegyal argues that people like us ‘are shamelessly manipulating this emotion to convince the world that it is cruel to keep elephants in captivity’. This kind of languages creates an unnecessary and unbeneficial divide. We certainly do not try to manipulate anyone. We use evidence to show the realities of elephant tourism and to propose change.

We also introduce feasible alternatives and are ready to support such initiatives. At present we need all parties to save Nepal’s precious wildlife and the country’s tourism industry. The sooner we join hands, the better.

Animal Nepal

Animal Rights Club

Association Moey - Helping Captive Elephants

Elephant Aid International

Help Animals India

Nepal Elephant Walk Sanctuary 

People's Alliance for Nature Nepal

Stand Up 4 Elephants 


  • Domesticated elephants play a major role in providing employment and economic opportunities to the local people through tourism, and in also provide invaluable help to conservationists in researching and protecting Nepal’s wild places.

Hemanta Mishra

  • Cruelty to animals is a worldwide phenomenon. Dogs caged in China and Vietnam meat markets. Whale massacres in Japan. The Gadimai sacrifices in Nepal. There are so many other forms of abuse of animals that need to be stopped more urgently. I agree with Lisa Choegyal that elephant safaris in Nepal are much more benign, and many livelihoods depend on it.

Erin Petersen

  • Having seen the way elephants are taught ‘obedience’ and ‘tamed’ in Sri Lanka and Thailand, it is unconscionable that human beings in countries that practice the Buddhist ethos of compassion should be treating sentient beings in this way. In fact, elephants in the wild have a sophisticated family structure, respond to stress just like human beings when chained and confined. Elephants belong in the wild, and ‘elephant safaris’ should take on a new meaning, venturing into the jungle to observe them in their natural habitat.

Nandita Ghosh

  • Those critical of captive elephants in Chitwan’s tourism industry should not keep dogs as pets. There should only be wild dogs, and they should be allowed to roam freely in the wilderness.

K B Limbu

  • I find it astonishing that so-called elephant activists do not seem to consider the fact that their blanket call for a ban on all captive elephants would leave thousands of them with no way to be supported, nowhere to live (since there is not enough wild land to release them to), and thousands of associated families with no work. Their plight would be worse.
  • It would be a great differentiating point for Nepal to have every elephant facility audited to a recognised set of international standards. It would be the only country to do this.
  • I'm all for a spirited debate on captive, domesticated elephant tours that meet the highest animal welfare standards, benefit communities, contribute to the stewardship of protected areas and create high-quality nature-based visitor experiences.
  • Without delving too deep into the nuances of the issues associated with owning elephants … the most important aspect is how you look after captive elephants and not really what you do with them. With that in mind I feel husbandry standards across the board can be improved in Nepal. Having an independent body to advise and monitor owners is a very good idea.
  • At the moment it does look like a losing battle to keep elephants working, at least in India. If there is a ban on elephant safaris, it will mean more neglect of the captive animals.
  • Dr Ingrid Suter makes a compelling case for captive elephant conservation and tourism. Particularly interesting is her belief in a grassroots, bottoms up consultation which I think is an excellent approach for Nepal.
  • It is time for Nepal to end all forms of cruelty to animals, including cruel mass sacrifices, poisoning street dogs, and mistreatment of elephants in the name of tourism. If nothing else, it is bad karma.
  • I agree, the welfare of captive elephants used for tourism is a concern in many countries and probably the certification model could address the critical welfare issue in Nepal.
  • Nepal has always been unique in the use of domestic elephants for shoots in the old days and safari in more contemporary times. The good thing is Nepal has never used domestic elephants for work such as logging, etc.

(Names supplied)