Wildlife SOS - India

Hosted by TreadRight Ambassador Céline Cousteau, this TreadRight led experience brought together a group of dynamic storytellers on a journey of education and compassion in incredible India. The central goal of their trip was to learn more about Wildlife SOS’s work to save elephants from negligent and abusive situations and bring more attention to the organization’s influential #RefuseToRide campaign.

Most travelers have no idea of the abuse that elephants must endure being "tamed" for riding. They’re poached from the wild as babies, isolated from other elephants, then beaten until they’re so terrified of people they’ll do anything. 

This cruel practice is called phajaan, or “breaking of the spirit.” After the elephants are deemed “tame” enough to do what people tell them, these elephants can look forward to decades of difficult, tedious labor with little to no access to good food, fresh water, quality veterinary care, or even the company of other elephants. Wildlife SOS is working to put an end to this abusive industry.

“It might be your dream to ride elephants, but this is an elephant’s worst nightmare,” says Kartick Satyanarayan, Co-founder & CEO of Wildlife SOS.

“Riding an elephant may seem innocuous considering the large size of the animal, but the reality is quite different and extremely shocking. Coupled with the fact that these elephants are beaten mercilessly to make them ‘ride-able’ and ‘photo-friendly,’ the excruciating pain that elephants suffer through to carry people on their backs only adds to their misery. “
“The never-ending demand from tourists for animal sports and entertainment is keeping this grotesque industry alive. If tourists stop riding elephants, elephant abuse and exploitation will automatically end. As long as there are huge profits to be made by exploiting these animals, the abuse and exploitation of the animals in the tourism and entertainment industry will persist,” adds Satyanarayan.

Much of what takes place in the elephant-riding industry is illegal by Indian law and, as such, Wildlife SOS is petitioning governmental authorities to do all they can to help put an end to the abuse of elephants used for riding in Jaipur, India.

“Elephants are extraordinary animals and it’s natural to want to experience them up close,” explains Shannon Guihan, Program Director, The TreadRight Foundation. “However, responsible travelers will look more closely and begin to understand the decades of pain, suffering, and cruelty that goes into producing that one-off tourist experience and recognize the need to refuse to ride. We’re honored to help Wildlife SOS spread this message.”

The TreadRight Foundation’s Wildlife pillar works to protect those animal species most at risk of poaching and ill-treatment. Partnering with leading wildlife organizations like Wildlife SOS, TreadRight works to protect and rehabilitate wildlife populations around the world.

Wildlife SOS & TTC

India is plagued with a lack of elephant welfare awareness and education, which is leading to the persistent use of elephants for manual labor, performances, processions, entertainment, and street begging. Wildlife SOS specifically addresses the problem of injured and sick elephants that are forced to work in slums and crowded cities.

The Objective

Wildlife SOS - India's aim is to reach out and help the elephants living in urban environments that are wounded, malnourished and dehydrated, or those being used illegally and commercially under deprived conditions. They currently offer medical services to elephants in need and train their handlers on humane treatment and management. Because these elephants are privately owned, Wildlife SOS must work closely with law enforcement officers, forest departments, and other enforcement agencies, in order to help them. As Wildlife SOS – India looks to build out its influence and ability to save elephants, the organization needs a permanent location from which they can consistently educate and update enforcement agencies with the newest laws, developments, and strategies.


India is home to nearly 60% of the planet’s remaining elephant population

The Impact

With the grant provided by TreadRight, Wildlife SOS will be able to build a permanent Enforcement Training classroom at the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre in Mathura, Uttar, as well as outfit it with AV equipment to train staff on anti-poaching efforts, wildlife laws, dealing with human/elephant conflict situations, proper elephant management and more, and do so on a consistent basis.