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A Trunk Full of Travel Adventures

by Meredith Mullins on March 27, 2017

Elephants in procession for travel adventures in Rajasthan, India. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

A regal procession in Rajasthan, India
© Meredith Mullins

The Elegance of Elephants

I have been thinking a lot about elephants lately. (That’s not often an opening line for a story about travel adventures, is it?)

In fact, I’ve been thinking about elephants for a long time—ever since Dumbo mustered the courage to fly, ever since Manfred the wooly mammoth survived the Ice Age, and ever since Horton heard his Who.

Elephants (and elephant characters) have enriched our lives for many years. They are evolved creatures worth studying and worth getting to know in an “up close and personal” way.

We can learn much from our elephant friends, especially where human/elephant contact is offered in a safe and healthy way for the elephants.

Elephants in Amboseli national park, an opportunity for travel adventures in the wild. (Image © Tatiana Morozova/iStock.)

Elephants in Amboseli National Park in Kenya
© Tatiana Morozova/iStock

Elephants in the News

Recent news events have again brought elephants into the headlines.

Last year, Ringling Brothers vowed to phase out their elephant acts due to animal rights issues. Then, this year, they announced the ultimate closing of the circus because of declining audience numbers due, in part, they said, to the removal of the elephant acts and to general concern for the treatment of the animals.

Elephant's foot tied to a metal chain suggesting dangers to elephants in captivity and to travel adventures in the wild. (Image © Tuomas Lehtinen/iStock.)

Elephant captivity can be brutally cruel.
© Tuomas Lehtinen/iStock

Also in the headlines of the moment is the danger to elephants from the ivory trade. China pledged to ban all domestic ivory trade by this end of this year, joining many nations in the environmental pledge to protect elephants from ivory poachers.

Illegal haul of elephant ivory, a danger to elephants and travel adventures in the wild. (Image © Stockbyte.)

The ivory trade is still a real threat to elephants in the wild.
© Stockbyte

These are solid steps toward protecting the threatened elephant population and treating elephants with the respect they deserve.

Elephant Enlightenment

My meetings with elephants over the past six months spanned the globe and the gamut of elephant life.

Elephants at the Amber Fort in Jaipur, India,, offering travel adventures for visiting tourists. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

The elephant taxi stand at the Amber Fort in Jaipur, India
© Meredith Mullins

The first elephants to cross my recent path were in Jaipur, India. Almost every tourist visiting the Amber Fort (called Amer Fort locally) travels the steep path to the fort on a festively decorated elephant.

The four-legged, trunk-waving taxis plod slowly and purposefully up the hill, defining perfectly the meaning of the word “lumber.”

Elephants climbing the hill to the Amber Fort in Jaipur, India, offering travel adventures to visiting tourists. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Understanding the true meaning of “lumbering” as elephants climb the ancient path to the palace
© Meredith Mullins

This transportation is how the visitors of the 16th and 17th centuries most likely arrived at the palace. Now, it is the ultimate tourist experience. However, the treatment of these “domesticated” elephants is controversial . . . and worthy of scrutiny.

Oh, I see. Sometimes our “bucket-list” travel adventures need a deeper look at behind-the-scenes realities.

The marketing material claims each elephant makes only 5 trips a day—all in the morning—and takes only two people on the Howdah (the carriage on the elephant’s back).

The working conditions were different in the past, as the elephants worked all day in the scorching heat and carried many more people.

Elephant resting against a wall in Jaipur, India, offering travel adventures to tourists at the Amber Fort. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Resting . . . or hiding out? Either way, a well-deserved respite.
© Meredith Mullins

Although the conditions have improved over time, it still seems that the elephants are under stress.

Animal welfare advocates allege that these elephants often do not get adequate food and water, the uneven pavement on the road to the fort damages their feet, and their off-duty housing is often less than desirable and is certainly a far cry from jungle life.

Even to be prepared for their jobs transporting humans, they are made to be submissive via often brutal techniques called “crushing.” Their spirits are broken. And no one lives well with a broken spirit.

Seated elephant with painted trunk at a sanctuary for elephants in Jaipur, India, offering travel adventures for tourists. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Showing off some new trunk painting at the sanctuary
© Meredith Mullins

Seeking Sanctuary

A better way to interact with elephants is to visit some of the elephant villages or sanctuaries. I visited one of these in Jaipur, called Eleday.

At this particular sanctuary, you can get to know your elephant, feed her, wash her, and apply some decorative designs to her body, akin to temporary tattoos or inventive face painting.

Perhaps she feels as if it’s a day of pampering at the skin and nail salon (although it’s hard to tell how the elephants really feel about being painted).

Smiling Lauren Gezurian paints her elephant at Eleday in Jaipur, India, a sanctuary for elephants offering travel adventures for tourists. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Eleday visitor Lauren Gezurian and her elephant-for-a-day are bonding well
with some trunk painting.
© Meredith Mullins

What we do know is that the elephant’s skin is very sensitive, even though it’s at least an inch thick. She definitely knows she is being touched.

Feeding elephants at Eleday in Jaipur, India, travel adventures for tourists. (Image © Anne Hobbs.)

An elephant can eat up to 500 pounds of food a day.
The few bananas we fed them were vacuumed up in a flash.
© Anne Hobbs

The Relephant Facts

In these more ecologically oriented sanctuaries, I learned some interesting facts about the species. Here are ten of my favorite.

  1. There are three surviving elephant species, all either threatened or endangered: the Asian elephant, the African savanna elephant, and the African forest elephant.
Elephants at a watering hole in Pinnewala, Sri Lanka, offering travel adventures in the wild. (Image © Nyira Gongo/iStock.)

Asian elephants gather at a watering hole in Pinnewala, Sri Lanka.
© Nyira Gongo/iStock

  1. How do you tell the difference between Asian and African elephants? African savanna elephants have large ears shaped like the continent of Africa. African forest elephants have large oval ears. Asian elephants have smaller ears. Asian elephants have rounded backs and relatively smooth skin, while African elephants have a sway back and very wrinkled skin.
  1. Elephants have more than 40,000 muscles in their trunks, making these massive noses very strong, sensitive, and flexible. It is said that an elephant can smell water from up to 12 miles away.
  1. The strength of their trunks comes in handy to forage for food and to lift things up to around 750 pounds. Here, a mother lifts her baby, who was stuck in the mud.

If video does not display, watch it here.

  1. They use their trunks for affectionate greetings also. They intertwine their trunks to say hello, like a handshake or a hug.
  1. Elephants love food and water. They can eat from 300 to 500 pounds of food a day. (They are herbivores). They can also suck up 15 liters of water in a single sip with their trunk.
    African elephants with trunks intertwined, offering travel adventures of the best kind. (Image © Nancy Haggarty/iStock.)

    A moment of affection
    © Nancy Haggarty/iStock

  2. Elephants are intelligent, social animals. Multiple families live together in the herd. They have been shown to be emotionally complex, compassionate, and caring. They show clear empathy for the sick, dying, and dead.
  1. Elephants can hear sound waves outside of our human hearing capabilities. They can detect sub-sonic rumblings through vibrations in the ground. They use their feet and their trunks to sense these messages, often from other elephants far away.
  1. No Air Jordans for the elephant. They are the only mammal that can’t jump. Perhaps that’s because they are the largest land animals in the world, weighing up to 24,000 pounds.
  1. Of course we can’t forget the elephant’s memory. We should all have such a gift.
Baby elephant as part of amazing travel adventures with elephants. (Image © Mahouts/iStock.)

A baby elephant can weigh 200–250 pounds when born . . . and has a fuzzy head only a mother (and the world!) could love.
© Mahouts/iStock

The Circus

After seeing elephants in the more natural settings of Asia and Africa, it is increasingly difficult to imagine their life in a circus.

However, the famous Cirque d’Hiver is one of my Paris passions and, this year, they featured elephants along with their traditional white horses.

Elephant taking a bow at the Cirque d'Hiver in Paris, France, showing elephants in performance and entertaining travel adventures. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Taking a bow at the Cirque d’Hiver in Paris
© Meredith Mullins

Even though this kind of entertainment brings smiles to the audience and a certain appreciation for the intelligence of the elephants, when you go behind the scenes, the “Oh, I see” moments can be painful.

It is especially difficult to know that circus elephants, no matter how well they are cared for, have been “broken” and perhaps live each performance in fear of the trainers that prompt them to do what is required.

Circus elephant sending acrobat into the air at the Cirque d'Hiver in France, offering travel adventures for tourists. (Image © Meredith Mullins.)

Elephant note to self: “If I just put a little more weight on the balance, I could send him into the stratosphere. But I won’t, because I’m a professional . . . and that guy in the fancy jacket has a whip.”
© Meredith Mullins

What We Know

What we do know is that elephants are intelligent, compassionate beings.

We know that they do not do well in captivity and that they are often treated cruelly at the expense of tourism and entertainment.

We know that they are a threatened species.

And we know that, if we want to continue with travel adventures of the elegant elephant kind—human/elephant interaction that does not compromise the elephant’s health and safety—we should do what we can to protect these amazing animals.

Two elephants, mother and baby, showing why travel adventures in the wild are rewarding. (Image © Mohamed Shahid Sulaiman/Hemera.)

Natural treasures are deserving of protection.
© Mohamed Shahid Sulaiman/Hemera

Comment on this post below, or inspire insight with your own OIC Moment here.

For more information about protection of elephants, visit the following links:

The Elephant Sanctuary

Wildlife SOS



2 thoughts on “A Trunk Full of Travel Adventures

  1. Dear Pamela,
    Thank you for your comments. There are so many fascinating animals to defend, it’s sometimes overwhelming. But elephants won my heart this year.

    And, yes, it’s lovely to see them use their trunks so intelligently, especially when saving a little one from the mud.

    Glad you enjoyed the article.

    All best,


  2. What a brilliant idea to come to the defense of these fascinating animals. Great photos and educational text, in addition to endearing video. Perfect for National Geographic.

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