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Anatomy: How to Book an Elephant for an Indian Wedding

In Hindu culture, elephants are a symbol of good luck, which is why grooms traditionally ride on them in Indian wedding processions. But getting that luck in Washington is neither easy nor cheap. Here’s how it works.

Illustration by Chris Philpot.

1. Commerford Zoo in Goshen, Connecticut, is one of only a few companies that bring elephants to weddings on the East Coast. Renting one of its two female Asian elephants in our area starts at $8,500.

2. Commerford recommends reserving an elephant a year in advance. Many couples book the elephant first, then pick a venue. Winter weddings are tricky, as elephants can’t be outside long in cold weather.

3. Commerford handles the permits. Maryland and Virginia allow the animals, but DC recently instituted a ban, which Commerford is fighting, that prohibits grooms from riding elephants.

4. The night before, the elephant gets a scrub-down and may have her toenails painted white with nontoxic paint. The elephants sometimes wear flower necklaces, bracelets, and other decorations.

5. On the morning of the wedding, the elephant boards a custom-designed, 60-foot tractor-trailer. Commerford recently got a new one at a cost of about $250,000.

6. Along the way, the elephant eats hay, fruit, vegetables, marshmallows, cookies, and other favorite snacks. Two or three handlers travel with the animal.

7. Before the procession, the groom climbs a stepladder to a special saddle with metal bars on three sides and a safety chain on the fourth. A boy of seven or eight typically rides with the groom.

8. The groom doesn’t hold reins to steer the elephant. Instead, handlers guide the animal, with members of the wedding party leading the way while singing and dancing.

9. The procession usually lasts an hour or so and travels just 400 to 500 feet. Once the groom arrives at the destination, the elephant and her handlers head back to Connecticut.

This article appears in the April 2013 issue of The Washingtonian.

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  • Ellen-Jo Lancey

    they should change this custom to having the groom man carried in a sedan chair. this is an ugly tradition!

  • Cindy Wines

    Dear Enchanted. Have Trunk Will travel is the worst with their elephants, beating them, tazering them and talking down to them. Tai in the movie "Water for Elephants" was really abused like that as portrayed in the movie. I can send you a link or go to my blog which is and look up how Have Trunk Will travel beats the elephants. They have a little elephant that they grab by the trunk and wap him on the head with a bullhook. They are evil people trained by Ringling Bros. See and see how they treat their elephants. They need to be shut down!!!!

  • enchanted

    I am not familiar with the elephants on the east coast (I am in California), but, we have a lovely ranch, Have Trunk Will Travel, here at Lake Elsinore that provides Asian elephants for weddings, film and tv. The owners and their staff are gentle and kind with their family of elephants. We have observed them at many events and have nothing but good things to say about them. The "girls" and "boys" seem to like people and are quite friendly and sociable "on the job". Kari and Gary are quite protective of their animals. Here is a very small excerpt of their website:

    As human
    population increases in Asia and Africa, there becomes less and less
    room for elephants and other wildlife. The animals are forced into
    smaller areas of their land. This land is quickly stripped of
    vegetation to satisfy enormous appetites. Elephants resort to raiding
    farmers’ fields. In these instances, they are often wounded or killed.

    Given the
    situation, it becomes evident that the key to the elephant’s survival is
    to nurture and breed them under human care. Asian elephant importation
    has been severely restricted in the United States. Our government
    heavily regulates the acquisition and ownership of elephants here, where
    they are protected. This leaves them in a land that was once theirs,
    but is rapidly becoming as endangered as the animals themselves.

    We at Have Trunk
    Will Travel strongly believe that elephants under human care will be
    the key to the survival of their species. Through the sharing of ideas
    and information, we are helping to establish the high standard of care
    and humane treatment that elephants deserve.

  • Ellen-Jo Lancey

    Maybe the "Human" population could breed a little less and let the rest of nature balance out a little!

  • Amy Mayers

    Would you go to the circus? If your answer is no, then don't rent an elephant either.

    First off, Commerford is a "zoo" in name only. They're actually a traveling show. Traveling shows take lousy care of their animals. Google "Commerford Zoo complaints" and see what you come up with. Here's one example --

    Second, everything Deb Robinson writes is true. Elephants in traveling shows, just as in the circus, are trained with brutality.

    Third, many elephants in traveling shows and the circus have been exposed to tb. They catch it from their trainers/handlers (people who work for these kinds of operations often have criminal records, drug and/or alcohol problems. etc.) and, yes, it's the kind of tb that can be trasmitted to back people.

    Come on, Washingtonian, do a little research before you publish crap like this.

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