As the summer sun sets over Delhi, a grand tradition fades with it.
Hulking gray elephants, shepherded by their handlers known as
‘mahouts’, were long a mainstay of Indian streets. Children took rides
on them through neighborhoods. They made appearances at weddings
and religious ceremonies, their trunks and ears decked out in stencil
art, the mahouts always by their side.
But as India’s booming cities modernize, they are losing their
appetite - and patience - for the street-walking elephants in their
midst, leaving India’s mahouts a quickly dying breed. Today, as few as
20 elephants remain in Delhi, the country’s bustling capital of 20
The city government is trying to get rid of elephants because they
cause traffic jams and damage government property. They’re not meant
to live in urban areas, city officials say, they’re meant for
forests. For the first time in 62 years, the annual Republic Day
parade last year, India’s biggest national show, featured no
But for the mahouts, who make as little as $35 a month and sleep with
elephants under highway overpasses and along riverbeds, there is little
else in life other than their pachyderms. Having grown up with the
animals, and usually spending more time with them than with their own
families, they know nothing else, no matter the consequences.
With commuters caring more about traffic jams than their famed
pachyderms, and a local government bent on getting rid of them,
elephants and their mahouts may soon be just a memory.