As part of his first visit to India, award-winning musician Pharrell Williams visited the Wildlife SOS Elephant Conservation and Care Center (ECCC) in Mathura, promoting awareness of the plight of captive elephants. Wildlife SOS Co-founder Geeta Seshamani spoke with Williams, his wife, and crew about the conservation work underway at the rescue and gave them a tour to see the ECCC staff in action and meet the elephants.

On their tour, they saw the first-ever elephant ambulance, which has made the journey of saving elephants much easier and safer with its special design including a hydraulic ramp, veterinary cabin, showers, and dual power supply.

Wildlife SOS and ECCC tend to the needs of enslaved, urbanized elephants working in slums under abusive conditions for human entertainment by offering medical services, education, and rescue efforts when possible.

Captive elephants experience a life of unfathomable abuse. They are taken at young ages, separated from their herds with disregard for their socialization and the fact that they are herd animals who love their families. They are shackled, starved, and beaten into submission. They live a life in chains on concrete and suffer disease and mental illness. Many do not survive their natural lifespan of 60-70 years. This is the cost of a tourist being able to ride an elephant and watch her do tricks.

As Williams met and fed the elephants, he heard their stories. Like the sad history of Phoolkali, an elephant who had been forced to work even though she was blind. He left the ECCC with these words: “Congratulations Wildlife SOS and good luck for the universal work that you do here and the effect you have on anyone who sees this!”

With Williams’ high profile, we hope more people are learning how their actions contribute to this horrible industry. It is our duty to reject elephant tourism, and be diligent and discerning about advertisements. Because something states that it is an elephant orphanage or sanctuary does not mean that it is. It’s not cute to watch an elephant beg or dance; it’s not their choice or inclination to give humans rides and kisses. It’s the result of a life of torture.

To experience time with elephants, we can all take the path of Williams and visit a real, humane sanctuary to observe the animals in their natural habitat. That’s enough of an offering. And more to the point — what the elephants can willingly offer.