After learning from the UK chapter of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) Foundation about how elephants used in polo matches are often beaten with sticks and gouged with heavy rods with sharp metal tips, the London-based Guinness World Records Ltd has informed PETA that it will remove all references to elephant polo records from its iconic Guinness Book of World Records. Rajasthan, which boasts of its rich culture and heritage, a part of which is elephant polo as well, is worried.
Since time immemorial, elephants have been an integral part of Rajasthan’s royalty. It was therefore natural that polo ‘the king of sports’ or ‘the sport of the kings’ began to be played on elephants as well in the state. But what if, the sport which has a long association with the land of maharajas, were to vanish like an age-old art? This news might have come like a surprise to some, but for polo lovers it’s a not a welcoming step taken by Guinness. Narendra Singh of the Jaipur Royal family does not agree with the decision. “Elephant polo is basically played for fun and entertainment. And it’s not cruelty as long as the animals are properly looked after and taken care of. Even if we look at it from the tourism point of view, such events are important to promote Rajasthan as the ‘it’ destination on the world map,” says Singh who also runs the Royal Jaipur Polo Foundation which organizes elephant polo in the state. And for many, the annual festival on Holi every year – the Elephant Festival, organized at the Chaugan Stadium, is a must attend event.
But while what happens to the sport this year remains to be seen, Digvijay Singh, secretary of the Rajasthan polo Club, says, "Being a polo player, I am highly attached to animals, be it elephants or horses. Rather than focusing on the animal friendly approach, this step to remove all records is, I think, a mis-directed one. It will bear no fruitful result. If we really care, we should do something substantial.” He suggests, “We use air cushion whip on horses so that it doesn’t hurt them. I agree the cruelty concern is definitely an issue, but we impose strict restrictions to deal with animal cruelty.”
There are others players too who stand in the support of what Digvijay is saying, albeit on a different perspective. “Removing the records cannot be an alternative to doing away with the problem,” opines polo player Uday Kalaan, who has played a number of elephant polo matches in India and abroad. “I have also played for King’s Cup, Elephant Polo Tournament in Thailand, which is an annual event in that country. But that doesn’t mean that we don’t care about the animals. We should definitely display our concern, but through some substantial measures. What I like the most about such tournaments are the funds raised – they go a long way towards the conservation of elephants,” adds Kalan.
Himmat Singh Bedla, also an elephant polo player, says, “I agree with the concern, but why not take it up in a more concrete manner, without doing away with the fun attached to it? Any sports where animals are involved, whether its polo played on horses, elephant polo, or derby, for instance, places an equally important emphasis on animal participation. What we lack is proper training methods when it comes to familiarizing the animals with the respective games. We should train people who do this formally. Rajasthan has a long tradition of elephant polo, so, how can we forget this age-old tradition of the state?”
But animal rights activists in Jaipur are happy with this news. "I must say a big ‘Thanks’ to the Guinness Book keepers for such a brilliant step. It furthers our cause. I won’t agree if they say that there’s no cruelty and torture involved in training the poor elephants. If we cannot provide them with their natural habitation, we have no right to use them for our entertainment,” says Rohit Gangwal, president of Revolutionaries Action Conservation Society for Helping Animals. While another volunteer Deepak says, “At least this step will bring the issue under the limelight. Every animal lover will be happy to hear this piece of news because essentially this should end."