Elephant watching makes me feel dirty


Majestic they may be but at the core a herd of elephants are just another family group going about the normal business. I don’t feel very happy gawking at them. My discomfort has nothing to do with bouncing through jungle tracks in a spring-less jeep. It just boils down to the questions of how would YOU feel if a bunch of strangers suddenly turned up at your door step and started taking pictures of you and your kids?

Mrs C is the only other person I know who thinks like this but I’m sure there are others. We tend to keep such opinions to ourselves to avoid seeming too weird. Another discomforting factor is that it makes wild life photography seems like a bad thing. It’s certainly not. Despite my discomfort with ogling elephants, I think wild life photography has a critical ecological role. It is the one thing that keeps disconnected urban animals like us from totally loosing any connection to unimprisoned animals. Completely different from harassing elephants while on “holiday”.

As a human I clearly have no idea about how the Elephants feel about being hounded and photographed. I’m certainly no expert on elephant psychology or the intricacies of elephant social structures. In relative terms I suppose, its better than getting shot at. None of that makes me any happier about elephant watching. I’m also not comfortable with taking a moralising tone given that wild elephant habitats in Sri Lanka exist on the edge. Ecology of elephant/human co-existence is not one of easy answers and comfortable positions.

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12 comments

  1. To my knowledge they are not very happy with flashes of cameras. Sometime they get really irritated. So good to capture them without any flash, if you really want to capture ‘chained’ elephants.

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  2. interesting post… but I do think that it wouldn’t be that big a deal for them, I mean they must be thinking ‘oh lookie it’s those monkeys who come on metal horses again!’… lol 😉

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  3. What an original twist to an otherwise ordinary activity !!!!!!
    I guess I never thought of it that way.
    In Sri Lanka are they not a part of the essential land scape ?

    You see them on the roads, on the street parade in Kandy and almost in all temples and also the symbol of a political party. Except for those poor villagers who grow sesame around their gardens to chase them away and hide the pot os salt in strange places, the rest of country thinks elephants are a common place. Do they not ?

    Is there not a idiom in Sinhala about “children and elephants ?”

    I think most people don’t consider it ogling. May be more like visiting a Sri Lankan relative ?
    You know how strange those visits are and one is always on the edge about saying the correct thing and on your best bahaviour.

    That to me is most representative of the relationship between the average Sri Lankan and elephants. Again not representative of the people who actually deal with them to protect their crop from elephants.

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  4. Great thought.
    Used to travel a lot to Monergala and visit Udawalawe at one time as we knew the OIC. Felt a bit morally deliquent when I heard that the trackers and jeep drivers would make herds angry and drive them to the jeep tracks just before the park opened. Visited Malawi once where the parks are truly huge and one needed really good telephoto lens to capture elephants. And this too at specific times when they visit the lake to drink.
    Ethical tourism and does it take proper wildlife conservation to consideration?
    Do watch the BBC program on endangered animals with Stephen Fry on BBC iplayer.

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  5. Kirigalpoththa: Interesting point. Though I have to confess I never did feel comfy shooting elephants 😉

    Chavie: You got a good point there. Most elephants seem to be the sort to put up with a lot of crap with a sort of philosophical attitude… most of the time.

    Anne: Never though of it that way. I do admit that it takes a moment for me to realize that an elephant on the road (in chains or ON a truch is not that much of an exotic site.

    I don’t think most people think elephants (wild or otherwise) are part of the landscape. In daily life the elephant is more a abstract symbol for something else whether it is a political party or the best ginger beer in the universe.

    And there’s a different vibe when you see an elephant in the “wild”. Its sort of like confronting an individual on their turf and on their terms (sort of) Which makes your interesting analogy quite appropriate 🙂

    I think though that the human/elephant conflict has been a 20th century nastiness. More people/cultivation practices etc have created a complicated worm ball of issues.

    Now you’ve got me rambling 😦 grr 😉 Thank you for the interesting analogy.

    DD: A very good point. I’ve heard that unethical tourism at one point made the tracks in Yala congested like Colombo (not sure how accurate that is). Not sure if I’ll get around to watching wild life vids- Mrs C gets upset with those nature docos – specially when they show some animal getting killed and eaten 😐

    St. Fallen: I’m not 🙂

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  6. // how would YOU feel if a bunch of strangers suddenly turned up at your door step and started taking pictures of you and your kids?//
    it is all depend on what they are wearing. isn’t it?

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  7. “It just boils down to the questions of how would YOU feel if a bunch of strangers suddenly turned up at your door step and started taking pictures of you and your kids?”

    Depends on how publicity hungry you are really. Reality TV is big business these days.

    Anyhow I agree with you. I’ve felt a little uncomfartable about intruding into their space.And it’s such a shame when trackers try to rouse the elephants so that tourists get to take great ‘action’ shots.

    At the same time, it is one of the contributing reasons why efforts are being made to conserve wildlife. Like in the case of endangered species, if people didn’t know they existed why would they be concerned about their welfare.

    However you do have a point about wildlife photography. It does help spread awareness and contribute to wildlife conservation.

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  8. sam: But elephants are naked all the time 🙂

    Aamina: Yes I think that wildlife photography is a form of “critical” journalism. Without it the rest of humanity would have no idea of the glory out there..

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