In Nepal’s Chitwan national park, elephants are now being used as walking guides in the jungle rather than as traditional – and cruel – tourist transport

Gulab Kali moved through the jungle with the commanding demeanour only seen in a more mature lady. With each step her hips swayed, causing clouds of dust to rise from under her large feet, like her own personal smoke machine. She was the most enigmatic walking guide I’d ever met. And – as a 3½ tonne Asian elephant – she was also the largest.

I was in Nepal’s Chitwan national park, 160km east of Kathmandu. It’s known for its successful anti-poaching patrols, which have led to an increase in the population of the greater one-horned rhino (bucking the declining trend of other rhino species around the world). But I wasn’t focusing on that; I was here to try a new way of heading out on safari to see them.

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