I have spent the past several days observing Lakshmipriya and Bishnupriya, two young temple elephants living at an ashram in Mayapur, India. Thanks to the dedication of Hrimati Dasi, a lifetime devotee of the temple, these two elephants are living a relatively good life. Few facilities worldwide meet the standard held here.
The area is fenced, mahouts are mature and experienced, a variety of quality foods are grown on-grounds and bought from local farmers, there is access to good vets and, most important, a welfare committee exists to deal with problems and ensure the well-being of the elephants.
Being the only elephants in the area makes them somewhat local celebrities. Word spreads quickly when they are on their daily walk. “Hati, Hati” echoes through the village as children come from all directions hoping to get a glimpse of these revered animals.
The younger elephant Bishnupriya is around four years old and quite spunky. I bet the fresh cut oat hay she is given each day contributes to her feistiness. Lakshmipriya, her older “sister,” has a calming effect on her and never strays far from her side. Together they walk without urgency down the roads and dirt paths that stretch out into the countryside, sampling a variety of trees, shrubs and grass.
Today Bishnu’s mahout teased her when she failed to sample the fruit of a tree he had led her to. “What kind of elephant are you?” he asked. “I brought you to this tree and you don’t want the fruit?” Bishnu expresses herself enthusiastically with a short trumpet blast whenever any opportunity arises. Both she and Lakshmipriya are quick-witted and very curious.
The mahouts for the most part are patient but they expect full compliance. They exert their dominance over the elephants using a small bamboo stick instead of an elephant hook, while Hrimati continues to work with them to soften their ways. When not out on a walk or in their pool, the elephants are secured on a long chain in their forest.
If I could make only one change for Lakshmipriya and Bishnu, it would be to add an electric fence inside the security fence (which is not elephant proof) so the girls can be off chains during the day. With that improvement, I would say this is one of the better elephant facilities that I have seen.