Promoting Elephant Welfare in Nepal

As the largest land mammals in the world, elephants are fascinating animals that feature quite prominently in Nepal’s history and culture, particularly in the Hindu religion where they are revered. Prior to the 1960s there were large numbers of elephants in the wild in Nepal, but encroachment of human populations and land clearances for agriculture have had a significant negative impact on wild elephants. Poaching elephants for their tusks and other body parts is also a big problem. Conservation efforts, particularly in the Bardia National Park, have saved Nepal’s elephants from extinction. Nonetheless, they are still considered to be an endangered species by the IUCN – International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Elephants in Nepal are Indian elephants (Elephas maximus indicus), a subspecies of Asian elephants, which are smaller than African elephants. Indian elephants reach a height of between 2 and 3.5 meters at the shoulder, and can weigh anything between 2,000 and 5,000 kg. They have smaller ears, but larger trunks than African elephants. Classified as mega-herbivores, elephants are known to consume up to 150 kg of a wide variety of vegetation every day. In Nepal’s Bardia National Park during monsoon season elephants eat huge quantities of floodplain grass, with their diet changing to primarily tree bark in the dry season.

Elephants have long been domesticated and used for tourist excursions or as working animals, where they are often treated poorly or even abused. Non-profit organization, Elephant Aid International aims to provide education and support to elephant owners and mahouts to implement humane methods of training and care for these gentle giants. Using a system called Compassionate Elephant Care (CEC) mahouts are shown how to make use of positive reinforcement training on elephants, rather than the traditional methods of dominance.

Many working elephants have their front legs chained together for hours on end, causing them a great deal of pain and suffering, both physically and emotionally. Elephant Aid International (EAI) advocates chain-free enclosures, where elephants have sufficient space to move about and socialize with other elephants. Working with the Nepalese government, EAI is currently raising funds to create Nepal’s first chain-free corrals for elephants. The new enclosures will be located in Chitwan National Park where 63 working elephants that are presently shackled in chains, will each be allocated a one-acre corral with access to shade, natural vegetation and streams for bathing. Corrals will be interconnected so that elephants can socialize. The solar-powered fencing used for enclosures emits a clicking sound that deters elephants without harming them.

Visit the Elephant Aid International website to find out more about the work they are doing for elephants in Nepal, and other parts of the world.