Visit Nepal coordinator’s tweets on elephants and rhinos meet with criticismNepalis on social media have been quick to call out Suraj Vaidya for promoting animal cruelty and dangerous behaviour with wild animals.
Suraj Vaidya, national coordinator of the Visit Nepal 2020 Secretariat, on Monday tweeted a video of elephants playing football. It showed elephants, with mahouts on their back, kicking a ball on a grassy field. Unlike in the past, where Vaidya's photos and videos of Nepal’s landscape and culture were welcomed, this tweet, and another one involving a rhino, was met with criticism on social media.
Responding to Vaidya's tweet, one Twitter handle questioned how Vaidya could use animal cruelty to promote tourism.
When tourists are even criticizing use of elephants for Safari, and after Polo was stopped because it was deemed animal cruelty, how can elephant football be promoted? @nepaltourismb @yogesbhattarai @WWFNepal @WWF @ElephantCrisis @peta— Kathmandu City (@kathmanducity) January 28, 2020
This is poor promotion of Nepal tourism! https://t.co/iSqfezUEzL
“When tourists are even criticizing use of elephants for Safari, and after Polo was stopped because it was deemed animal cruelty, how can elephant football be promoted?” said the tweet.
In December 2017, Tiger Tops, organisers of the annual International Elephant Polo Competition, announced in December 2017 that it would stop holding the event after 35 years in order to “support the movement against animal cruelty.” Though Tiger Tops stopped hosting the competition, polo events continue at the Chitwan Elephant Festival.
Recent years have seen a number of movements against animal cruelty led by both local animals rights organisations and foreign bodies. Posts on popular travel websites like TripAdvisor and LonelyPlanet have raised the ethics of even riding an elephant at Chitwan, garnering much commentary on the treatment of the pachyderms in Nepal. Tourists are no longer as eager to ride on the backs of these animals as they were earlier, prompting a number of resorts in Chitwan to provide cruelty-free alternatives in the form of elephant walks.
But Vaidya’s elephant football tweet wasn’t the only one that invited criticism. Many more people were upset with a photo he posted of himself petting a rhino that had wandered onto the street.
.@suraj_vaidya14ji, it is not a good idea to treat as pets rhinos that have strayed from the jungle. This kind of activity is extremely dangerous, sends the wrong message to tourists, and can endanger wildlife tourism in a country that is refuge to the one-horned rhino. https://t.co/J6eGszHU8h— Kanak Mani Dixit (@KanakManiDixit) January 28, 2020
Journalist Kanak Mani Dixit, commenting on the photo, said that it was not a good idea to treat rhinos that strayed into human settlements as pets and would send a wrong message to tourists and endanger wildlife tourism. Vaidya’s tweet was criticised for sending the wrong and possibly dangerous message to tourists that it is acceptable to touch wild animals like rhinos, which are notoriously irascible and dangerous.
“This is an extremely dangerous and frankly stupid thing to do. Rhinos [have] poor eyesight and [are] ill-tempered,” former minister Dipak Gyawali said on Twitter.
Vaidya's tweets of the animals playing football and him touching the rhino were from the 16th edition of the Chitwan Elephant Festival, which was organised by the Chitwan chapter of the Regional Hotel Association of Nepal in Sauraha, from December 26 to 30. The festival featured races and games, including polo and football, all of which involved elephants. Once a popular event, it has, of late, drawn criticism from various quarters including visiting tourists who’ve taken issue with the fact that elephants are often beaten and abused.
International animal rights organisation, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), before the start of the festival, organised a protest outside the Department of Tourism demanding an end to the festival, alleging that animals were being abused for human entertainment. Following the protests, PETA said the festival's sponsors had cut ties with the event but the Chitwan Regional Hotel Association went ahead with the festival.
Last year, PETA had also released footage from the festival showing elephants being mercilessly beaten and jabbed with bullhooks and sticks on their heads and ears to force them to take part in the events organised during the festival.
Animal abuse is often met with fierce criticism. Last year, a video of a dog being beaten to death went viral on social media, triggering a massive backlash. The mass slaughter of animals in the Gadhimai festival has also long been condemned by animal rights activists.