Concerns About Mahout and Elephant Welfare in Chitwan National Park

Soon after the morning safari hours are over, the elephants are taken to a local river where tourists play with them further, most popularly being showered by the elephants. 2010.

Soon after the morning safari hours are over, the elephants are taken to a local river where tourists play with them further, most popularly being showered by the elephants. 2010. Photo: Kashish Das Shrestha/SustainableNepal.org

Every year, news seems to trickle out from Chitwan National Park of privately owned elephants used for tourist safaris who break out violently. On numerous occasions, there is human fatality, Last week, on Wednesday, 12 March, another  such incident took place when an elephant called Champa Kali killed its mahout, Moti Lal Chaudhary.

The following is a Press release based on that tragic incident, and on the treatment of privately owned elephants in Nepal and the way welfare of both the animals and their handlers, the mahouts. It brings to light the darker side of Nepal’s ‘nature tourism,’ and it is high time these issues be addressed both by the tourism sector as well as national policy makers.

Below, the press release:

 Sauraha, March 15, 2014 – Animal Nepal and Elephant Aid International call for an investigation into the killing of a mahout by a safari elephant in Sauraha earlier this week. “The issue of deprivation and overworking of safari elephants needs to be addressed to prevent further injuries and deaths,” the organizations say.

Safari elephant Champa Kali killed mahout Moti Lal Chaudhary (50) on March 12 during public bathing. Chaudhary recently changed jobs, and it was his first time to take the elephant for bathing with tourists. Champa Kali is known as an aggressive elephant, who killed someone in India before being sold to its Nepali owner, Bishnu Hari Sapkota of Nature Safari Camp. She also has a history of Tuberculosis.

Animal Nepal and Elephant Aid International urge the authorities and elephant owners’ cooperative “Unity” to conduct an independent investigation. “Mahouts are being killed on average every two years. It is important to know what the factors are behind the killing, and to rectify conditions in such a way no mahout or tourist gets attacked in future,” say representatives Lucia de Vries and Carol Buckley.

According to De Vries and Buckley sickness, stress and fear are the main factors why domestic elephant attack. They argue that if safaris were conducted according to the international guidelines of ABTA and other major travel associations, the welfare of both mahouts and elephants would greatly improve.

ABTA recommends riding for maximum four hours per day, and at least one hour rest between rides. The heavy howdah should be replaced with a simple padding carrying maximum two tourists.

A private elephant's day usually begins with taking tourists on a safari. Here, visiting students from The New School, New York, on an elephant safari in Chitwan National Park. 2010.

A private elephant’s day usually begins with taking tourists on a safari., as seen here in Chitwan National Park. 2010. Photo: Kashish Das Shrestha/SustainableNepal.org

 The organizations are concerned about the working conditions and lack of formal training of mahouts. “Nowadays mahouts lack status in society, do not receive formal training and their working conditions are compromised. All these factors have an adverse impact on their relation with the elephants,” according to the welfare campaigners.

Animal Nepal and Elephant Aid International have spoken out against public bathing in the past. Tourists can opt to ‘bath’ with elephants by standing on their back and being showered with river water through the elephant’s trunk. “Elephants love bathing but such performances are extremely stressful for them. This is when many accidents take place,” according to the campaigners.

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