CHITWAN, April 15: Private elephants kept for providing jungle safari services to tourists are now on verge of collapse.
With shrinking business opportunities due to the ongoing pandemic, the elephant owners have started selling or returning the tuskers rented from India.
In the last two years, the number of elephants has reduced to 35 from 67 in the United Elephant Ride Operation Cooperative that has been providing the riding service.
Chairperson of Regional Hotel Association, Deepak Bhattarai, who also served as the former chairperson of the cooperative, said it was difficult to keep the elephants without business.
He further noted that they are not receiving support from the government.
Entrepreneurs said it costs more than Rs 100,000 per month to keep an elephant, which normally requires over two quintals of food per day.
Only three elephants among those rented from India are available at Chitwan National Park (CNP). Though entrepreneurs did not provide accurate data, each elephant costs anywhere from Rs 8 million to 120 million in Sauraha.
The sold elephants are being taken to Gujarat of India. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora prohibits the trade and transport of endangered animals listed in annex 1.
With this legal provision, the owners here do not openly admit the trade of elephants. It has been tough to rear elephants due to limited tourists in Sauraha, said chairperson of United Elephant Operation Cooperative Rishi Tiwari.
“The Indian government has allowed the private sector to keep elephants but it is not permitted in Nepal,” Tiwari said, adding: “Elephants would not be sold if the government had provided assistance in insurance and grazing".
It was difficult to rear the elephants when the government did not allow them to cut stray grass to feed the tuskers, he complained.
Chief Conservation Officer of the Chitwan National Park, Ananath Baral, said, “Though CNP has demanded land for grazing elephants, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation has not yet made any decision to that end.”