Photos: A Day In The Life of Elephants in Nepal

A bull at the Chitwan National Park's Eastern Division - Sauraha premises.

A bull at the Chitwan National Park’s Eastern Division – Sauraha premises. All photos: Kashish Das Shrestha. 

At best, there are 142 resident wild elephants in Nepal. The captive population stands at 208. For this year’s World Elephant Day, here is a photo feature of an explicit and typical interaction between elephants and humans in Nepal, centered around Chitwan National Park, the country’s oldest and most visited park. All photos from 2013 unless otherwise mentioned.

Morning Chores:

Early in the morning, this elephant belonging to the national park carries its feed back to the park campus.

Early in the morning, this elephant belonging to the national park, carries its feed back to the park campus.

Private elephant are used for safaris and baths with tourists, while the Park-owned ones mostly to monitor wildlife and fight poachers. Wounds on the head and inner ear of elephants used for the safari are common. They are caused by the short and heavy metal hook, called ankus, used by the elephant mahut to train and control the animal. The wounds appear to be particularly common amongst the privately owned elephants who are under daily pressure to cater to tourists. This is a relationship that the elephants perhaps don’t want to be in.

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 normally begins with safari duty. It is normal for an elephant to make two or more safari trips every morning. 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.

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

 

A common injury amongst privately owned elephants. It is caused by sharp metal hooks, called ankus, used by the elephant mahut to train and control it.

A common injury amongst privately owned elephants. It is caused by sharp metal hooks, called ankus, used by the elephant mahut to train and control them for safaris and baths.

Break Time:

After finishing their morning chores, the elephants get to rest for several hours in the afternoon.

Elephants make their way back to the hotel they belong to. They would have spent the morning as safari rides, followed by bathing with tourists in the river.

Elephants make their way back to the hotel they belong to after their round of morning safari and baths. 

Pinky, the elephant, resting and feeding while her Mahut sits by her side.

Pinky, the elephant, resting and feeding while her Mahut sits by her side. 

It is common to find elephants walking through Sauraha bazaar in Chitwan during all odd hours of the day, especially late mornings and late afternoons.

It is common to find elephants walking through Sauraha bazaar in Chitwan during all hours of the day, especially late mornings and late afternoons.

Electric Fencing (Against Wild Elephants):

The relationship between humans and wild elephants is not presented kindly. Recurringly, it is one of human-wildlife conflict, with the elephants portrayed as the perpetrator. Sometimes, when they make their way through villages in and around the national park at night, they crush whatever stands in their way, including huts and its residents. In the last decade, modern solutions, namely the solar powered electric fences, have been introduced to deal with this problem. Although, a veteran conservationist

The electric fence along Seti Devi forest and its buffer zone have gone a long way in reducing Human Wildlife Conflict in a community where farmers have lost homes, farms, livestock, and even lives to it. Thanks to the fencing, the agricultural land is safe from wildlife encroachment, offering the local community immeasurable respite and saving them millions of rupees. Because the fence is solar powered, it operates even during frequent power cuts.

The electric fence along Seti Devi forest and its buffer zone have gone a long way in reducing Human Wildlife Conflict in a community where farmers have lost homes, farms, livestock, and even lives to it. Thanks to the fencing, the agricultural land is safe from wildlife encroachment, offering the local community immeasurable respite and saving them millions of rupees. Because the fence is solar powered, it operates even during frequent power cuts. This one was built with the help of  USAID funded Hariyo Ban Program implemented by WWF and other partners.

Electric Fencing (For Captive Elephants):

At the same time, the Government is currently testing electric fences to house elephants so that they can move around freely inside a defined perimeter as opposed to being chained.

At the same time, the Government is currently testing electric fences to house elephants so that they can move around freely inside a defined perimeter as opposed to being chained.

A calf walks freely inside a the electric fenced perimeter.

A calf walks freely inside an electric fenced perimeter.

A bull at the Chitwan National Park's Eastern Division - Sauraha premises.

Traditionally, elephants are chained and tied down, such as this bull at the Chitwan National Park’s Eastern Division – Sauraha premises. The guide’s instruction? “Don’t stand too close to it, and try not to stand directly in front of it.”

The Dusk and the Twins:

Twins Ram and Laxman were born in captive on Nov.6, 2008 in the Sauraha Elephant Breeding Center. Their mother Devikali is now 45 years old. Their father, Romeo, died due to an electric fence before the twins' birth. He was aged 45 at the time. The brothers, now aged 5, seen here earlier this year.

Twins Ram and Laxman were born in captive on Nov.6, 2008 in the Sauraha Elephant Breeding Center. Their mother Devikali is now 45 years old. Their father, Romeo, died due to an electric fence before the twins’ birth. He was aged 45 at the time. The brothers, now aged 5, seen here earlier this year.

A calf and its mother, at dusk in the Sauraha Elephant Breeding Center. Earlier in the day, they spent time grazing and walking around the park premises.

A calf and its mother, at dusk in the Sauraha Elephant Breeding Center. Earlier in the day, they spent time grazing and walking around the park premises.

An elephant brushes itself with dust as dusk settles over Chitwan.

An elephant brushes itself with dust as dusk settles over Chitwan.

Forgetting The Elephant on World Elephant Day:

The Nepali press, it seems, has forgotten about our elephants. On World Tiger Day (july 29), barely two weeks ago, and even in the lead up to it, Nepal’s national dailies offered a good coverage on the species, highlighting its threats and championing and celebrating its conservation. Today, the 2nd World Elephant Day, has not seen any press coverage in the national dailies on this important and endangered species. Not even WWF Nepal has any formal event to mark the occasion.

Indeed, it is often with nudging of organizations WWF or IUCN that the media is reminded of special days dedicated to wildlife. While WWF international did tweet about it (see below), neither organizations in Nepal marked the event today. In fact, I don’t even remember the last time Nepal’s elephants got any positive press coverage at all as most news on them are confined to ‘attacks’ on villages or humans. And ‘positive’ doesn’t count the use of elephants for human amusement and indulgence, such as playing polo, or covering an elephant ‘beauty contest.’ They certainly are not mere joyrides and exotic showers either. Perhaps it is worth remembering that while we applaud the population rebound of tigers, and celebrate ‘zero poaching year’ of rhinos here in Nepal, we most probably cannot imagine conservation of either of those species without elephants.

A memo at the National Trust for Nature Conservation's office in Chitwan National Park, reminding the need for two elephants for rhino tracking. 2013.

A memo at the National Trust for Nature Conservation’s office in Chitwan National Park, reminding the staff that two elephants will be needed for 25 days of an upcoming ‘regular rhino monitoring.’ 2013.

In Numbers:

Resident wild Asian Elephants in Nepal: 109 to 142 (DNPWC 2008)
Captive elephants in Nepal: 208 (2011)

Source: Current Status of Asian Elephants in Nepal by Narendra M. B. Pradhan, A. Christy Williams and Maheshwar Dhakal. 2011.

Source: Current Status of Asian Elephants in Nepal by Narendra M. B. Pradhan, A. Christy Williams and Maheshwar Dhakal. 2011.

On Twitter:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Additional Resources:

The website, WorldElephantDay.org is very resourceful.

An insightful article titled ‘Is This Year’s World Elephant Day The Last Chance For Elephants?” on HuffingtonPost is definitely worth reading.

EleAid has this page with concise information and data on wild and domestic elephants in Nepal.

This  extensive report titled The Challenge of Managing Domesticated Elephants in Nepal by Fanindra R. Kharel for FAO, from the early 2000s is very resourceful.

Polo Playing Elephants in Nepal, a BBC report.

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