I’m so excited to start sharing all the adventures I’ve been having the last month in Karnataka. It was an early morning start to Dubare Elephant camp, which wasn’t easy for me after my Volvo breakdown of the century (which I’ll tell you about later!). I was soon to see why we left Mysore so early on the goMowgli tour, as at 830 we were the only ones around for the elephant’s bath times!
photo via Karan of goMowgli
Bathing Elephants in India – Dubare Camp
I was asking a lot of questions about the care of the elephants after hearing so many awful tales of wild elephants trapped for tourist attractions or to become temple elephants, but the team explained to me that the terrible practices were outlawed in the 70’s. There were many elephants already tamed when the practice was stopped and the Forestry Department along with the Karnatakan Government uses these elephants to tour the forests where vehicles can’t get through. They explained that the elephants used to work doing logging but since it’s been stopped the elephants have little work and spend their days quite bored.
photo via Karan of goMowgli
We immediately saw another use for these elephants. Upon arrival to the camp, the gate was drawn shut and they locals were saying panicked, “wild elephant is going crazy!”. Here, an elephant can ruin all someone’s crops in one day therefore wrecking their livelihood. Coorg is quite the rural area in most places and many people farm.
It is part of the Forestry Department’s duty to scare these trouble-making elephants back into the forest where they came from. They do this by riding tamed elephants. We saw them in action getting ready to track the wild elephant. In some rare instances, wild elephants have killed people.
When these tamed elephants have babies, those elephants are kept tied so that they too will be tamed. I know some people see this as animal abuse, and I admit I’m still on the fence because who knows if we are getting all the information- but these are working elephants just like someone would use a cow, water buffalo, or horse for work. When your job is to keep leopards, tigers, and wild elephants from killing crops or stealing babies from villages (while not hurting the amazing wildlife at the same time), your work is a little bigger and the tamed elephant gets the job done. On the other hand, when I see temple elephants like at Mysore Palace, my heart breaks for them and I just want to set them free.
The water was nice and cold in October. You can bathe them with your hands, but not the scrub brushes since they are afraid you might hurt the elephant. They let me for all of two seconds so I could get a photo. One of the elephants was pregnant which was so odd to see a huge bulge in her stomach moving.
photo via Karan of goMowgli above and the one below
who knew elephant tongues were so soft!? My reaction.
You actually don’t need much time here. The bathing was great and I loved every second of it, but I wish they didn’t offer the elephant rides. I’m not into riding the elephants because it just makes me feel a little bad for them. They have important jobs to do, so walking around with kids on their backs must be a bit degrading for these amazing creatures! I did ride an elephant in Goa a couple years ago before I knew the whole story of how these animals are kept- and in Goa it’s 100% just for money-making purposes so I wouldn’t do it again. After their baths, I gave them some cucumbers (and felt their soft tongues!).
Practical Information for Dubare Camp
- Coming from Mysore, you’ll pass through through Hundsur and then Periyapatna where 150-200 years ago it was the prime tiger territory in the whole of India and was very feared!
- For breakfast a great little dosa was served up at Top In Town on the way in Kushalnagar
- Price for bathing elephants are 100 for indians and 200 foreigners
- Feeding is 20 rupees for one piece of food or you can bring your own food but it must be clean and new, as in don’t take a bite of your banana then feed them or they will yell at you!
- If you’re on the goMowgli tour and want to stay here longer, you can stay at the Jungle Lodge. Here’s a video from their website: Dubare video
- Check availability! If the Union is on strike they won’t be open. This is government owned.
I was invited here by goMowgli, but all opinions are my own!
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What beautiful photos! Definitely on my bucket list…
absolutely should be!
How beautiful! This reminds me of Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka, on the road between Colombo and Kandy. Love <3
Oh interesting, heading to Colombo this weekend. Worth checking out?
What a cool experience. That photo of you after you felt the elephant’s tongue is so great! But I totally understand when you say you’re on the fence about certain aspects of this. I agree that I would never ride an elephant now that I understand how badly a lot of these creatures are treated. The second I read that the baby elephants are kept tied so they can be tamed I felt a little sick :(
Yeah it’s pretty sad, but I suppose if they need them for work it’s better to keep them as babies then take a wild one that’s grown in tame it.. I think?!
Sounds like fun! I know what you mean about being on the fence about it, but it sounds like these elephants are doing some very good work – like you say, hopefully they are being treated as well behind tourist eyes as they are in front of them. Can’t wait to read about more of what you got up to on your trip!
Yeah, and I think they are. The owners bathing them were so protective and loving
Hmmmm I guess it depends on how much you love elephants!! It’s certainly nice, but if you’re only there for the weekend you might find your time better spent somewhere cultural like Kandy – especially if you’ve had your fill of elephants for the week!
I’ve been to a few elephant sanctuaries in Asia, some much better than others. I too felt that bathing the elephant was an amazing experience, no matter where I was, but that the rides/treks at some of the places felt pretty sketchy. I went to one amazing one in Laos that made me realize just how shitty the other places I had been actually were. However, I’m not totally against riding elephants, if the conditions are good and the elephants are well-treated. I don’t really see how riding an elephant is any different than riding a horse or mule, which many people do without guilt all over the world. Maybe I’m wrong though, that’s just my opinion. I’ve heard about those temple elephants, but I’ve never seen them. I imagine that would tug pretty hard at the heartstrings!
I think you’re right that it takes seeing multiple ones to realize which weren’t actually treating them nice! And yes, the temple elephants are hard to see.
I once attended a talk where Lek from Saveelpehant.org provided fascinating insight on the treatment of elephants in the tourism industry. At one point, I asked her what should we as travel bloggers do? do we promote elephant riding? (and yes, its a bit degrading to the elephants) as its better than the elephants being mistreated and put to work pulling logs (and tortured) or dose try and eschew it altogether?
Her response was, if these were the only choices, then yes, it is better to allow the riding of elephants than the potential torture if they go back into the yard. But to remind ourselves that elephants (and all animals) are not made for our (human) entertainment. We should accord it the same respect as well.
She also showed us some tell tale signs of mistreatment which includes the bald spot on top of the head of the elephant (from being whacked). Its great to see that the elephants you saw were treated well.
Check out Lek’s project at http://www.saveelephant.org She is really truly inspirational
I think you make a good point that respecting them makes a difference. That’s a good tip she gave about looking for bald spots!
This looks AMAZING! When I finally go to India I need to do this. I absolutely adore elephants and feel that this is the right way to interact with them.
I’m glad you approve :) Did you change your site name? I hadn’t realized it was different, I also just scroll past the top to the articles!
You had a very unique and interesting experience, although I agree with you that I’m not crazy about elephants being tied up. It would be interesting to bathe them and feed them, though. This is an interesting opportunity I’d like to learn more about.
Hi Rachel, Still I feel, there are lot of torturing/ abusing done by trainer (mahouts) in Dubare camp. Elephants are beaten with metal hook unnecessarily. They have lot of scratch and wounds even for baby elephants. Of course with commercialisation of the place, this is impacting therir natural habitat.