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The Dark Reality Behind India’s Festival Elephants | Podcast | Overheard at National Geographic | Travel & Tourism Video Vloggers And Reviews

For thousands of years, people in India have captured elephants to serve as war machines, beasts of burden, and part of religious festivals. And while they’re revered like gods, and adorned with embroidered garments and jewelry in parades, National Geographic Explorers Sangita Iyer and Jyothy Karat say these endangered Asian elephants are often living in distress and are mistreated by their handlers. Iyer and Karat tell us what life for India’s temple elephants are like and we’ll hear about a possible way for Indians to celebrate elephants with new robotics technology.

Credit: HRISSUR, KERALA, INDIA: An elephant attends a temple ceremony at Thrissur, Kerala, India. Elephants have become increasingly popular at religious festivals in Kerala, for centuries they have been used by the Hindu faithful because of their role in Hinduism and also as a symbol of power. In recent years both Christian and Islamic factions have introduced elephants into their festival. As a result, these elephants have become heavily overused during the festival period. They have little rest, are surrounded by a roaring crowd, loud music, and concussive fireworks. Elephants that are in musth have also been used, despite their increased aggression in this period. Accidents and killings have been commonplace, panicked and aggressive elephants have killed a number of spectators, as recently as January 2013 an elephant killed 3 woman spectators yet was allowed to continue performing. The elephant owners charge large fees for appearances and there are devout, fanatical followings for individual elephants. Despite the danger, people continue to flock to these events. Elephants are typically wild animals who have been caught and broken, then trained to obey commands. Elephants in Kerala spend their whole lives chained, living in small spaces like open air prisons and performing manual labor or appearing at these festivals.

Photo by Brent Stirton, National Geographic

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Documenting democracy, Untwisting the world’s largest tornado. Searching for wrecks of lost slave ships. Dinosaur hunting in Morocco. Accidentally inventing a new color. Come dive into one of the curiously delightful conversations overheard at National Geographic’s headquarters, as we follow explorers, photographers, and scientists to the edges of our big, weird, beautiful world. Hosted by Peter Gwin and Amy Briggs.

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The Dark Reality Behind India’s Festival Elephants | Podcast | Overheard at National Geographic

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