Chitwan National Forest.
Manoj and his friend Santos have been there for two weeks, commissioned by PETA, to observe the training of baby elephants. Torture, fire, and beating are used to dominate the young elephants. The trainers have allowed him to witness, but not to film their practices. He’d been trying to get a letter of authorization from the minister of forestry, but it never came. We decided that I’d hide in the bushes and film from there but they spotted us and we had to leave.
The training happens at night, so during the day we went on a hike in the forest and he showed me all the pollution and litter in the river, bottles of chemicals that people pour in the water and poison the fish for easy catching. We see a crocodile, we see elephants carrying piles of tourists on safari in search of the endangered one horned rhino, and elephants carrying huge bundles of illegally gathered firewood in their trunks, trainers sitting on their backs. He shows me an alien plant that has virtually taken over every forest in Nepal, it’s only been in the country for about five years, nothing eats it, and it’s strangling all the native species.
We drop in on a private elephant training resort. Manoj interviews the main trainer on their techniques. They use a mix of positive reinforcement and torture. We feed and pet a four-year-old elephant that’s much too small for her size. She kisses Manoj with the tip of her trunk. When it’s time to go she wraps her trunk around Manoj’s arm and pulls him towards her, someone else might be scared, being tugged by an elephant, but Manoj is amused by her. “She’s pulling me! She’s so strong! She doesn’t want me to go.” There are tears rolling down the elephant’s cheek, he wipes it off and shows me. His way with animals and people is full of love and respect.