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Responsible tourism at Tiger Tops

I recently had the opportunity to visit Tiger Tops, Tharu Lodge, situated on the western side of Chitwan National Park, Nepal. This beautiful corner of the jungle is home to 12 Asian elephants.

Tiger Tops set themselves above the rest by being the first lodge in Nepal to stop tourists riding elephants. Some of the daily activities include jeep safaris, safari by ox wagon and a river cruise. We were fortunate to see one horned rhino from the jeep and the canoe.

Walking with the elephants in the jungle and taking in the nature on foot is the highlight. The elephants are guided by their handlers who sit on their shoulders and use their voice and feet to guide them. There are no sharp sticks used on these elephants and there are not chains around their feet.

Tracking one horned rhinos and the elusive tiger on foot are all part of the thrill. Whilst walking we found fresh tracks of a rhino and could see where he had been wallowing in the mud.

We also came across the remains of a deer that had recently been killed by a tiger. It was fascinating to see one of the elephants’ reaction to this - she starting frantically hitting her trunk on the ground, obviously distressed by the fresh scent of death and tiger. We later found some giant fresh paw prints in the mud which certainly set my adrenaline racing!

Every now and then the elephants decided to stop and feed or push down a tree. Their handlers didn't stop them from being elephants and it was a pleasure to stand quietly and watch them enjoying themselves. Respect for the elephants is at the core of this operation and after breakfast you can help make kuchis (elephant sandwiches made from grass, molasses, grain and salt neatly weaved together).

This is not a petting zoo, guests do not touch the elephants but are able to be very close to them.

When the elephants are not out in the jungle they spend their time in a 13 acre camp. Most elephants used for tourism in Asia are chained to a post when the tourists have finished with them so it refreshing to see this change in treatment.

Having spent years watching wild elephants in Africa it has taken me a long while and a lot of thinking to get my head around the use of elephants in this way for tourism. However, the reality is that there is not enough space in the wild for all of these elephants in Nepal anymore and the demand by tourists to ride elephants is still frustratingly high. I hope that other lodges and organisations will follow in the footsteps of Tiger Tops. The best way for that to happen is for consumers to change their mind set and not demand to ride elephants. If you are planning a trip to Asia and are interested in going on a safari please try to be a responsible tourist and think about what you are doing before climbing on an elephant's back.

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