The Himalayan Times, 28 Jan 2018
Amid increased activism by global animal rights activists against elephant ride, jungle safari operators based in Chitwan and Nawalparasi have demanded that the government come up with a regulations with minimum conditions to be fulfilled for using elephants for tourism and wildlife conservation.
Stating that elephant is a crucial part of Nepal’s wildlife tourism and conservation, they said banning their use completely would have an adverse impact on tourism, which is one of the major contributors to the national economy. At the same time, it would also hamper conservation efforts, and put at risk the livelihood of elephants in captivity.
Amid increased pressure from rights activists, leading travel companies across the globe have stopped selling elephant rides and shows. These activists are reaching out to global consumers and tour operators persuading them not to buy/sell packages selling elephant rides and shows.
However, Nepal-based elephant safari operators have termed the advocacy against elephant ride a ‘one-sided story’. “We all agree that animal cruelty should be stopped. But are we inflicting cruelty on elephants?” asked Basanta Raj Mishra, executive chairman of Temple Tiger Group. “We do not use elephants for circus or games such as tug of war as in other countries. We are simply using elephants for tourism and wildlife conservation.”
According to elephant safari operators, tourism also provides livelihood to elephants in captivity. They say these elephants are not only earning money for the tourism business, they are also earning for themselves.
At least two individuals have to be employed to look after one elephant. The animals need around 150 kg of food and 150 kg of water every day, including 15 kg of paddy and sugarcane molasses every day. On top of that, they also need regular veterinary services. On an average, owners to spend Rs 50,000 to Rs 60,000 per month per elephant. There are an estimated 200 to 250 elephants in captivity in Nepal.
“Chitwan National Park is not just a bush forest, there’s riverine forest, grassland and sal forest, among others. If we only use vehicles for jungle safari, we cannot see much farther. So if tourists do not see anything, why would they come? And if visitors stop coming, tourism collapses, and no one will pay for the elephants’ fodder,” said Mishra. “Besides, our elephants feed on right type of grass on the banks of Rapti and Narayani rivers and drink fresh water of these rivers. There’s no cruelty. And research has proven we have not mistreated our elephants compared to other countries.”
The ban on elephant ride would also put at risk investment of billions of rupees in hotels set up specially for wildlife tourism around Chitwan National Park. The move could also result in scores of people being jobless, as one tourist is estimated to create 13 jobs in Nepal. And since tourism is one of the major source of foreign currency in Nepal, it could ultimately affect the national economy, according to them.
Operators say banning elephant ride would also affect conservation efforts. “It is said poverty is the biggest enemy of conservation,” said Mishra. “Our conservation efforts have been successful because of four factors — tourism, army patrolling, local community and national park authority. There are checks and balances. If we take elephant out of equation, everything will collapse.”
The Nepali Army also uses elephants for patrolling the national park during monsoon as roads are washed away by rains.
Tourism operators, however, said that they could not entirely dismiss the concerns raised by animal rights activists, and expressed readiness to reach a ‘compromise’. They suggested that they could lower the working hours for elephants, lower the number of people riding on elephant from four to two and eliminate the practice of tying elephants by their feet and leave them free.
But for that, they want the government to speak up and come up with regulation stating clearly the minimum things the owners should do to keep elephants for tourism and conservation purposes. “The government should either support us or take all our elephants and feed them. But if we need to protect the national park and wildlife tourism, elephant ride is mandatory,” he said.