14th Chitwan Elephant Festival 2017
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Chitwan National Park

Chitwan National Park established in 1973 A.D. is regarded as one of the 3 best national parks in the World and best in Asia, not only due to its unique flora and fauna but also due to its valuable conservation efforts. From this tropical jungle, you can even see world famous Mt. Dhaulagari, Mt. Manslu, and Mt. Annapurna Range in winter. In Mansoon Season, the extremely dense lush green jungle gives you the feeling of being in Great Amazon or African wet jungles. Even now, one can definitely get the feel of the days of great adventurers of 18th century. This National Park had been very popular with most famous kings and princes of gone by days. They made this place famous all over the world, but their royal hunting expeditions had almost eliminated some of the rarest species like Royal Bengal Tigers, Rhino and Gharial Crocodiles. But, as they needed elephants for hunting, they had preserved them to some extent. Now, after very serious conservation efforts and international assistance, the population of tigers has gone up from 20 to 100. The population of Rhinos has gone up from some 100 to more than 500 in this national park, from 1973 to 2005. It is estimated that in around 1911 A.D. (when George V had visited Royal Chitwan Natinal Park for hunting) the population of Asian Elephant was more than 2,000 in Nepal, which has come down to about 200 only. (Revised estimate of RHAN, Chitwan, 2006 August.)

Tourist Village of Sauraha, The Main Gate Way of the National Park

Out of this number of 200, about 64% of the elephants are in the Tourist Village of Sauraha, (the main gateway to this national park) and nearby areas. It is estimated that some 20 wild elephants also visit this national park on their great yearly travel of Himalayan Foothills and Terai and mostly hang around the Elephant Breeding Center of Sauraha Tourist Village. It can be said that the Tourism Industry of Sauraha and Chitwan National Park is heavily dependent on a small population of domesticated and trained working elephant.

The presence of elephants in Sauraha is overwhelming. Some 100 thousand tourists visit Sauraha in a normal year that supports some 65-resort hotels/lodges (with 1500 beds, employing some 1000 staff). There are 22 tourist guide offices, which employ some 100 naturalists, guides and helpers. Some 15 restaurants, 80 elephants and 40-dugout canoe provide employments to some 500, and at least another 150 persons are engaged in marketing and communication. There are many shops, which are dependent also on tourism industry in Sauraha. It can be estimated that at least 2000 people and their families are directly dependent on tourist industry (mainly based on elephants). Tourism industry of Sauraha also supports many travel / trekking / rafting agencies, transport services and suppliers of Kathmandu, Pokhara, Ratnanagar, Sunauli/Lumbini and Narayanghat. Thus, the multiplier effect is enormous. The (outcome ? impact =) indirect benefits are also considerable especially in the field of education, skill development, women’s participation and development of socially justifiable development of free enterprise. All this shows the importance of elephants, which very clearly have been helping at least 10,000 people of Sauraha Tourist Village especially for the last 10 years. Now, we have become more aware of this fact and realize that unlike in Africa where Safari Tourism is based on noisy and polluting Land Rovers, elephant based safari is more interesting and beneficial from ecological, economic and sociological point of view. All we have to do is to develop a strategic plan, get international cooperation to save these great and most intelligent mammals and regulate their working conditions and manage to grow their food materials, provide clean and healthy water, know more about their biology and control diseases and prevent accident, with a view to minimize damage to the ecology of this national park and enhance social benefit at the least social costs. This is why, we in Sauraha want to save the Asian Elephants. Of course, “The World will not be the same, without them”.

The Great Asian Elephants, Elephant Breeding Centre and Stables of Sauraha

To the Scientists, the Elephants are Elephas Mximus. There are basically 2 species found in the world, viz. African and Asian Elephants. It is believed that elephants had evolved from aquatic mammals like ‘Manatees’ of latter Jurassic Age. They are normally 10-11 ft tall at shoulder level and weigh about 4 tons. They are found only in the semi-tropical Inner-Terai valleys and foothill plains of Himalayas. They can live up to 100 years. They have very high degree of consciousness and sensitivity towards their babies, their families or herds. There are many interesting legends found even now in Nepal, about the most loyal, intelligent and loving elephants like Ganesh Elephant of Saptari. The Elephant mating lasts for 3-4 days and it is already a tourist attraction. After successful mating, the pregnancy in female lasts for 22 to 24 months.The African elephants with bigger fan like ears are extremely difficult to domesticate and train. On the other hand, the average bigger black-gray and dwarf white species of Asian elephants are very easy to domesticate and train. Especially in India, Sri Lanka and Thailand, the trained elephants are used mostly by lumber and forest product based industries. But in Nepal, they are used mostly in Tourism Industry and to some extent for private use.

The Elephant Breeding Centre of Sauraha

The Elephant Breeding Centre of Sauraha with great tourist attraction is said to be one of the only 3 such centers in the world. Officially started in 1989, this centre had 5 Stud Bulls and 15 females and 6 babies (totaling 26) in 2001 A.D. ((Kantipur Daily, 16 Bhadra 2058 B.S.) Now, in August 2006, there are 19 male/female adults and 15 babies’ elephants (all together 34). They are not used for work. Some Stud Bulls were exchanged for rhinos and brought from Myanmar and Thailand. When they are not found to be suitable for procreation, they are sent to government stables for carrying tourists and on inspection / rescue operations. This unique centre has to be reorganized and run under a better scientific management. The need for a research lab, proper veterinary service and organization is very strongly felt. This Elephant Breeding Centre may be second biggest (after Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage of Sri Lanka which has 65-70 elephants and orphans). Unfortunately, this centre in Sauraha does not grow elephant food material like Jackfruits, coconut, tamarind and banana leaves and branches, and is still dependent on National Park. (An elephant needs some 76 kg of green matter and 5-10 kg of rice and unrefined sweet extracted from sugar cane, vitamins and mineral. It also needs about 200 liters of hygienic and safe drinking water every day.)

The trunks of elephants are not like drinking straws as commonly thought. It is highly evolved organ. Similarly, the lungs of elephant are very different and complex. The deaths are mainly caused by problems of wind pipe and air pressure on lungs, brain cancer, heart attacks, rabies and Honda Kota, injuries and old-age. Very little is known about the problems of breeding, conception, pregnancy, delivery and child elephant care. In the past century poaching and slow breeding were the main problems.

Total Population of Elephants in Sauraha and Adjoining Areas in Chitwan

According to preliminary survey conducted by Regional Hotel Association Nepal, Chitwan in August 2006, there were 17 working elephants in Sauraha Government stable, (19 adult and 15 babies=) 34 in Elephant Breeding Centre of Sauraha and 4 elephants were brought from Koshi for special conservation assignment. In private sector, there were 20 elephant in Sauraha village stables and 5 in Gainda Wildlife Camp (hotel), totaling 80 in the Tourist Village of Sauraha. In 6 jungle lodges situated within Royal Chitwan National Park, there were 48 working elephants engaged entirely in safari tourism. Thus the total population in 2006 August was at the level of 128 elephants (or 64% out of total estimated number of about 200 found in Nepal).