Elephants Paint For Their Own Survival in India

By Deepak Mahaan | July 7, 2008 | 8:11 PM EDT

Jaipur, India (CNSNews.com) - From carrying warriors into battle to playing polo, elephants have played all kinds of roles in the history of India's Rajasthan state. But with the economic problems caused by a dearth of tourists in the aftermath of last September's terror attacks, elephants have been taught an entirely new skill, one that's intended to help pay for their upkeep.

Last Sunday, a group of elephants in Jaipur "painted" a large canvas, using long brushes and non-toxic paints. When the paint dries, 17 of India's most prominent (human) artists will add finishing touches to the jumbos' bold strokes.

Then the finished paintings will be auctioned to the highest bidder, with the proceeds going to house and feed the elephants.

Given the slump in tourism since the Sept. 11 tragedy, elephant owners are finding it difficult to satisfy the voracious appetites of the jumbos, putting their survival at stake.

This week's art festival is aimed at generating awareness of their plight as well as starting a fund for the elephants' upkeep.

Timmy Kumar, the director of the Jaipur event,\b has a special affinity for elephants, which are a special part of Rajasthan's history. When the festival extended an invitation to some of India's top artists, Kumar was struck with the idea of creating "a really historical painting of human painters and the brush strokes of the elephants."

The jumbos received special painting lessons over several days. Elephant trainer Mohd Shafiq\b said the animals are "sensible enough to garland people and play polo, and as we had taught them every day, we were confident that these elephants will be able to paint properly."

To enhance their artistic tendencies, the owners fed the elephants with favorite treats including sugarcane, bananas and oranges. And the special diet seemed to work, according to elephant owner Ayoob Khan.

"The elephants seem quite happy to paint, moving their ears vigorously, which they do only when they enjoy something." They held the brushes in their trunks.

A large number of visitors appeared more eager to see the elephants at work rather than the famous artists. They cheered loudly at every elephantine brush stroke.

Elephants are much venerated by Hindus, one of whose mythological deities is depicted as an elephant.

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