The illegal export of domesticated elephants from Nepal to India Chitwan due to the collapse of wildlife tourism that began during last year’s lockdown has not stopped.
This in violation of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of which Nepal is a signatory, dozens of privately-owned elephants not registered with the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation (DNPWC) are being trucked across the border into India where the animals command a high price.
CITES regulations states if any person or organisation has reared or benefitted from any endangered wildlife must be registered within a year from the establishment of the regulation. This sets a deadline of 24 November, 2020 and if any unregistered, endangered animals are found they can be confiscated.
Of the few domesticated elephants that are registered, in Nepal the rules laid out in CITES are rarely followed and elephants are being traded across the border. In March, a 50-year-old female elephant belonging to Jungle World Resort was sent to India without any procedures being followed.
Director-General of the DNPWC Dipak Kumar Kharal, says that due to the pandemic it has not been possible to enforce the rule about cross-border trade of endangered wildlife and the requirement of their registration.
However, the Forum for Protection of Public Interest has accused the department of endorsing the illegal trade of elephants by not enforcing their registration in accordance with CITES.
“The department itself is in favour of keeping these animals unregistered”, says the Forum’s Sanjay Adhikari. “If the animals were registered, they would not have traded here and there so haphazardly. Without registration, these animals have no official records, and owners can do with them what they please.”
Nepal’s wild elephants are also on the move, Salik Ram Chaudhary
Making an interim ruling on a writ petition, the Supreme Court on Wednesday ordered the government to stop the sale and export of domesticated elephants to India.
A hotelier in Sauraha just outside Chitwan National Park where the elephants were being used for safaris, says that the upkeep of elephants has become costly during the pandemic, since there are no tourists nd owners are renting them out to India.
“It costs Rs100,000 a month to take care of an elephant. We have next to no income because of the pandemic so we have no choice but to rent them out to buyers in India.” says the hotelier who did not want to be named. “If the government will not allow us to rent them out, they ought to keep the elephants because we cannot afford them.”
The hotel owner is making a distinction between outright selling of the elephants with renting, which is legally more defensible.
Chief Conservation Officer of Chitwan National Park Ananath Baral, says that he has tried to remind the hotel owners that both the sale and transport of even domesticated elephants is illegal but to no avail.
“The businessmen tell me that they cannot afford them anymore and that they will leave the elephants at our doorstep if they are not allowed to send them to India,” says Baral. “However, we are in no condition to be able to raise these animals either.”
There are 130 domesticated elephants in Nepal ccording to the DNPWC. There are no exact statistics for how many have been sold or rented to India. But Rishi Tiwari of the United Elephant Management Cooperative in Sauraha says there were 55 elephants in the cooperative before the lockdowns, and about 20 could have been sent to India.
“Since elephants are protected under CITES, we cannot say they have been sold,” Tiwari explains. “We have to say that they have been displaced.”
Elephants are in high demand in India, and fetch prices up to Rs10 million each. Indian landlords like to keep elephants as a status symbol, there is a demand from temples, and wedding contractors also need them for marriage processions. The Indian government also provides interest-free loans to farmers involved in elephant rearing.
“We have also asked our government for interest-free loans, veterinary doctors, insurance and pastures,” says Tiwari. “If the government had provided relief, then we would not have been forced to send some of our elephants to India. But, they did not listen to us.”
Baral at the Chitwan National Park says arrangements are being made for elephants to graze in allotted areas in the community forest to reduce the cost of their upkeep.
Born to be free, Lucia De Vries
Set the elephants free, Michelle Szydlowski
Translated by Aryan Sitaula from Nepali original in Himalkhabar.com