Tuskers into white elephants for entrepreneurs

Chitwan, December 3

Keeping an elephant has become a hard job for entrepreneurs in Sauraha as income has fallen sharply due to decline in tourist arrivals in Chitwan.

According to entrepreneurs, tourist arrival has fallen after the deadly April 25 earthquake this year. Besides the blockade at the Nepal-India border, now into its third month, has brought the tourism sector on the verge of collapse.

The elephants in sauraha, which used to be busy ferrying tourists’ adventurous rides before, have become idle these days due to the present crisis across the country. Hence, hoteliers have been facing a hard time as feeding them as it is too costly.

There are 62 privately managed elephants to facilitate tourists in Sauraha. An elephant costs from Rs 8 million to Rs 10 million. A hotel owner there has kept at least one to three elephants on an average. At least Rs 1 lakh is needed to feed an elephant for a month, according to entrepreneurs.

Bishnu Prasad Aryal, proprietor of Rhino Hotel, said at least one kg sweet potato, 5 pathi rice, one kg grams, three quintal grass and 15 kg straw is required to feed an animal each day. At least two mahouts are required to take care of an elephant and ride it.

Hence, around Rs 30,000 is needed every month for them. But an elephant hardly earns Rs 25,000 to Rs 30,000 per month, said Aryal.

Deepak Bhattarai, chairman of United Elephant Cooperative, said an elephant hardly gets a single ride in three days. “Tourists who wish to ride elephant had to wait at least for three days this season last year. An elephant used to take four rounds into the jungle per day,” said Bhattarai.

Tourists are taken around Chitwan National Park and adjoining areas, including Baghmara, Kumroj and Chitrasen Community Forest and Mrigakunja Madhyawarti Forest, among others.

“Compared to past years, only around 20 per cent tourists have visited Sauraha of late.

A large number of external tourists have been discouraged from visiting the town following the deadly April earthquake and the recent border blockade,” said Bhattarai. “Even school and college students from various parts of the country have not visited Sauraha due to the prolonged fuel crisis and looming uncertainty,” lamented Bhattarai.

Entrepreneurs said they had never ever faced such a tough time feeding elephants before. Hotel entrepreneurs also have demanded that the government allow them to collect fodder in the national park area at this time of crisis.

With sharp fall in income, the entrepreneurs are worried about paying installments and interests at the banks, said Bhattarai, who is also proprietor of the Forest Resort.