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Mansi Khandelwal

IWB Blogger

Brigitte Kornetzky Reveals To Us The Nightmares Of ‘Where The Elephants Sleep’

  • IWB Post
  •  January 15, 2018


Rajasthan is a hub for elephant tourism. Painted and nicely dressed every morning, the elephants set on their rides to please the tourists.

But do we know how much they suffer? Recently at the Jawahar Kala Kendra, a documentary was screened that depicted everyday struggles of elephants in Rajasthan. We met the woman behind the camera, Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky, director of  ‘Where the Elephant Sleeps.’

The documentary tells how captive elephants toil day after day with their mahouts to bring in the tourist dollar for the elephant owners. The harsh conditions in which they live cause various types of physical and mental harm, life-threatening infections, depression, etc.

Ms. Kornetsky’s  (“Elephants in Need”) Foundation works with Help in Suffering, Jaipur, and the Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation Centre to better understand the sentiments of elephants and the torture they go through being chained for life, just to please the tourists.

Elephants Film


In a very emotional and empowering conversation, Brigitte told us, “My love for animals is what drove me towards bringing their harsh reality out to the world and help them get a better life. I have so closely experienced their pain and suffering that If I were an elephant, I would kill left and right if humans did this to me.”

Sitting beside the pool, with a lush green garden on the other side, it was a perfect set up to hear the stories Brigitte wanted to share. Her expressions and emotions made me realize how deep she feels for the elephants and the weight she had put behind her words reflected her dedication to bringing a change.

Elephants Film

Courtesy: Natasha Smith

Me: Describe your first date with elephants?

Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky: My first date was on the highway that leads towards elephant village in Rajasthan. I saw the silhouettes of elephants from far away in the setting sun, and I told the taxi driver to follow them (like a stalker). You wouldn’t believe at that very moment I had the title in my mind without even shooting one single scene of the film.

Me: It is said that elephants have a very strong memory. How do you think they’ll remember you?

Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky: Yaa, they have a sharp memory and remember even after many years. There was one elephant I met for the third time a few days ago, and I was so impressed how she was waving her trunk. I could see she recognized me. But it obviously depends if you are a good person or bad, since they can easily sense it. In the case of the latter, they get really aggressive and harmful.

Me: Few important things you would want the uninformed tourists to know?

Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky: Most of the times the issue is that the tourists are uneducated and that’s what reflects in their behavior. So we need to inform the tourists about the problems of the elephants. For example, when the elephants walk up Amer Fort they have tons of difficulties. They are dehydrated, they are old, and hardly get to rest in this terribly hot weather. Also what I feel is that they shouldn’t do it at all. They are constantly stuffed with sugarcane all the time because it gives them the right push to get on the road whereas the wild elephants eat approximately 60 varieties of food.


Me: What challenges did you face while making this documentary?

Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky: In a way, I was very welcomed, but not in the crucial parts. I remember wanting to film this particular scene where the mahout sits on the top of the elephant and threatens and beats him to eat sugarcane. The elephants then become so scared that they do as their master says. I wanted to show this cruel reality, but I was not allowed to.

Me: What is the current status of the Supreme Court proceedings?

Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky: The Government of Rajasthan has been notified, and the answer on the petition is expected in January 2017.

Elephants Film

Me: What do you see as an immediate solution?

Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky: Well, the only solution is that the Government of Rajasthan has to stop it. These elephants are not desert elephants, and so they are not meant to take so much weight and kept under such conditions. These elephants at Amer Fort are either locked up between tourists or concrete walls. There is not even a single rehabilitation center in Jaipur, but I am sure there’ll be one soon!

With a heavy heart inflicted with deep pain and empathy towards elephants, she told me about a dark reality that has troubled her the most.

There is an age-old practice done in remote areas called Phajaan where the baby elephants are tortured to the extent that they are made to split from their spirits and eventually become submissive to their masters.

Me: What regulations should be put in place?

Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky: I only think that the elephant tourism should STOP! Putting an end is the only solution and nothing else. Also, I feel the problem lies in education. People are not aware of the consequences of their actions. These elephants that are captivated are not meant to be here but live freely in the wild.

Elephants Film

Courtesy: Natasha Smith

Me: What do you expect the government to do right now?

Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky: I would really want them to take the six elephants in Rajasthan who are ailing and suffering in immediate custody for medical treatment.

Me: What do you expect the locals to do?

Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky: I guess they should stop taking the rides. They should march together asking the government for proper land on zero lease system.

Me: What is that one emotional fact about elephants that you have learned?

Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky: An Elephant is the largest mammal on land and is by far the most learned, knowing and social one, I personally feel. I have closely felt how they want to be liberated, not tortured, wanting their own family, eat well, live well, just like a human being.

Elephants Film

Courtesy: Natasha Smith

Me: Do we have enough doctors in Rajasthan?

Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky: No, not at all. Moreover, there was a doctor, who helped the ailing Sita (one of the elephants) in the film and he was banned because he gave medication to the elephant. When I met him next, he told me how he was threatened with murder.

Though I brought him back to the elephant village, he is no more there because the Human Society International has set up an elephant mobile van and sent two assistant doctors, who I would like to mention only come when they are called.

To put things into perspective, the owners don’t want to treat their ailing elephants because elephant owners find it financially beneficial to replace sick elephants than to treat them with appropriate medication.

Me: How do you like seeing elephants best?

Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky: I like them getting dirty like crazy when they are playing in the mud.

Aaahh, on that note, I couldn’t resist telling her how much I love to watch elephants bathe. In fact, baby elephants are a true delight to watch. And when I came back home this was what she sent to me. :)


Me: If you were to converse with an elephant, what would you talk?

Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky: Purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr, she said! I would go on making this sound of the elephant. Haha!

I’d asked them ‘Did you munch well, Do you want more? Where do you wanna go? Have you heard anything from your neighbors? How’s your family? Do you want babies? Etc etc.!


Me: People use the word ‘Elephant’ to body shame others. How would you use the elephant as a compliment?

Brigitte Uttar Kornetzky: I would say you are as strong and wise as an elephant.

“An elephant is a highly sensitive animal that we have ripped out from its natural habitat and kept in captivity. I feel that we need to take full responsibility to take care of them. They should be treated with love and respect, not beaten to eat or work. I have made this film to educate the people about sensitive matters related to the living conditions of the elephants in Jaipur.”

You can watch the film here.

To see more of her work, click here.

This article first appeared on December 22, 2016.

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