Every day this week I will be sharing a story of Conservation Optimism from around the world– exciting projects led by passionate people dedicated to saving Earth’s precious wildlife. Today I want to take you to the balmy jungles of southern Nepal, to a little place that gives a lot of hope to one of the most sentient creatures.
Nearly 1 in 3 Asian elephants live in captivity- in Nepal, it's over half. Government-owned elephants are bred at centres, from chained-up females and wild males. Private elephants are smuggled from India, mostly for the tourist trade. Although illegal, it is done out in the open. The elephants are forced to work, carrying tourists in heavy saddles (150kg + ~6 people) that are strapped tightly, often causing injuries. Their training methods are often brutal, using bullhooks to punish them, and ‘breaking their spirit’ from a young age so that they tolerate the work – which is why even ‘elephant bathing’ experiences aren’t innocent fun. When not working they spend their time chained in such a way they can’t lie down and are isolated from each other.
Stand Up 4 Elephants was established in response to the unacceptable conditions of Nepal’s elephants. Initially their focus was on ethical tourist experiences like Elephant Happy Hour, where riding elephants would be unchained to exhibit their normal behaviours, with tourists sharing that positive experience in a safe and stress-free way. Now they have 2 of their own rescued elephants, who live in the model of what elephant care could be. They engage in the community demonstrating improved husbandry methods, to bring about a change in perspective and abolition of cruel practices. The elephants are trained by positive conditioning, not ridden, and have daily access to the jungle. SU4E also offer free footcare to local elephants, as many suffer from conditions such as cracks and abscesses, and nutritional support.
I visited their sanctuary last year near Chitwan National Park, and was blown away by their compassion and ambition. They are currently fundraising to protect more jungle land, so they can welcome more elephants and change their lives for the better.