The day in the life of a working elephant is nonstop suffering. Rani is a 43-year-old female Asian elephant. She has likely been doing the same work her entire life: taking tourists up the steep slope to Amer Fort day after day.
Rani, meaning ‘queen’ in Hindi, is a 43-year-old female Asian elephant living in a concrete stable at the Elephant Village (Hathi Gaon) outside of Jaipur – a place built by the State government in 2010 to house the 120 or so working elephants. More than half of them have moved there with respective owners, mahouts, and family, and the others are still trapped in even worse conditions. Her stable is small but at least is clean and has decent flooring; not all the elephants are that lucky.
It is expected that Rani has been working at Amer Fort in Jaipur for at least 25 years, which is how long she has been with her current mahout. He doesn’t know what she was doing before but she has very likely been doing the same work for her entire life: taking tourists up the steep slope to Amer Fort.
5 a.m. – struggling to sleep
It is dark, everybody is asleep still, but Rani isn’t. How could she? She is standing in her urine and feces, her movements have been restricted by chains and ropes tied to three of her feet. She lifts her rear legs, one at the time, she is uncomfortable and doesn’t like to stand in her own mess. In the wild, she would take short naps standing up but would also lie down to sleep for a few hours.
Dawn – Rani’s day begins
Rani is taken to be washed by her handler. Instead of taking her to the nearby lake where she could lie entirely in the water, splash and play as she would in the wild, he walks her just a few meters to be washed with a hose and a brush.
After her shower, she has breakfast – sugarcane straw. She looks for the greener stems that are juicy and nutritious but there aren’t many. She eats what she is given, she has a long day ahead of her. Her owner says that Rani’s favourite foods are banana and bread, but she didn’t get any this morning. Her diet is very poor compared to what she would eat if she was roaming free in the wild, leaving her weakened.
7 a.m. – the long commute to Amer Fort
It’s almost time to go. Rani is ordered back to her stable. She has been trained to obey about 35 commands – move, up, down, sit, photo, lift feet, turn around, and more. She doesn’t resist her mahout and knows what she must do and what will happen if she doesn’t, so she obeys him, moves slowly. She kneels to have her howdah – elephant saddle – weighing about 50 kg lifted on her back. She waits patiently until it is tightly fitted.
She then leaves her stable with her mahout on her back to walk the 4km-long journey to Amer Fort. It is early but the sun is strong. Her commute is dangerous - roads are chaotic, loud, the tarmac hot – her foot pads are not made to walk on concrete roads, and they are all cracked and sore as a result. Rani is used to it now but should not - elephants are not native to Rajasthan, it is too hot and too dry, they belong in the forests of greener states.
8 a.m. – painful tourists ride on repeat
After a stressful journey, she arrives at the bottom of Amer Fort where she meets her counterparts - tens of working elephants lined up to take tourists up the steep slope of the Fort. Being given no time to rest and recover from the journey, she must take her first customers of the day straight away – maximum two people per ride. It takes about half an hour of slow and painful up-hill walk. At the top, the tourists get off and without a pause she walks back down. She will go up and down four times, without rest or water. She cannot stop or will likely receive a beating from her mahout. He doesn’t have a bull hook, only a bamboo stick but one of the ends is much sharper than the other and causes pain.
A ride has a set fee of about $22 CDN per person, so an elephant earns about $160 CDN a day. This income supports not just the handler and his family but also the elephant’s owner and his family. It goes without saying that Rani cannot take many sick days.
12:30 p.m. – overworked and lonely
Once she has finished working at Amer Fort, she must return to the elephant village walking again the 4km-long journey on the same dangerous road. She is then forced to stay in her stable with her heavy howdah on her back waiting to take more tourists for rides around the village in the afternoon.
Although surrounded by people for most of the day, Rani is lonely, she has very little to no interaction with the other elephants, which is important for her psychological wellbeing and health. Leading a solitary life is very unnatural for a female elephant who is part of a close-knit family in the wild who protect and look after each other.
5 p.m. – the end of the day for a working elephant
It is only when the sun goes down than Rani is finally done for the day. Tired, sore, and hungry, she is fed more food before being chained up for another sleepless night.
The next day, and every one after, will be the same for Rani. She endures a life that she wasn’t meant to have. Jaipur elephants are huge and majestic animals; the only way to force them into this cruel life of rides and entertainment is to break their spirits through beatings and abuse. Reduced to this life of slavery, is a far cry from their wild counterparts in the lush forest of Assam.
Sadly, Rani’s story is only one amongst many.
Give working elephants freedom
Your support means freedom for elephants like Rani. Together, we can transform Amer Fort into a wildlife friendly tourist destination, where history and culture are celebrated, but not at the expense of these intelligent and social animals.
Give now and you can help end elephant rides at Amer Fort in 2023 so Rani and the other 90 working elephants can retire to sanctuary and live a life without suffering.
Disclaimer: As all elephants are treated as a commodity and product at Amer Fort, it’s impossible to be entirely sure about the name and age of the elephant pictured. This story is representative of the lives of the 91 elephants at Amer Fort.