Captive elephants could be used to promote ecotourism

Rafiqul Islam
Thursday, June 4th, 2015

The elephants which are in direct human care and control should be used in ecotourism to attract tourists to visit the country’s beautiful spots and avoid the incidents of elephant trampling like the one happened in Bagerhat recently, say wildlife experts.


“Once the captive elephants used to be used to carry woods in uneven hilly region and also in circus to entertain people, but time has come to deploy captive elephants in promoting ecotourism in the country,” wildlife biologist Dr Monirul H Khan told UNB.


The issue of captive elephants management came in the limelight after three people, including two women, were killed as an elephant of a circus troupe trampled them at three villages of Mollahat and Sadar upazilas in Bagerhat on May 23 last.


Historically, captive elephants were used in battle fields and carrying war materials and woods. There are such many examples of elephant use in history. Mughal emperor Akbar used elephant during his regime while Greek hero Alexander the Great was also impressed by the Indian use of elephants in battle, that he immediately enlisted them into his army when he invaded India in 326 BC.


Although the scenario has changed in recent decades, the captive elephants remain under control of private owners and they are using those in unethical avidities like extortion or circus.


“As the captive elephants are handled by private owners separately, the male elephants become highly violent toward humans during their musth with an appetite for having sex with female ones and they trample people whenever they find,” said Dr Monirul.


He explained that musth is a periodic condition in bull (male elephants), characterised by highly aggressive behaviour and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones. Testosterone levels in an elephant in musth can be as much as 60 times greater than in the same elephant at other times.


Dr Monirul, a professor of Jahangirnagar University’s Zoology Department, said there are some external signs visible during the musth of a male elephant, and the elephant mahouts (handlers) who take care of them can avoid violent situation immediately bringing a female one to the male elephant.


According to the Forest Department’s data, it has given licenses of 81 captive elephants to private owners, and these elephants are being used in carrying woods and circus in different parts of the country, but wildlife experts say the number will be much higher.


Forest conservator (wildlife circle) Dr Tapan Kumar Dey, also head of the Wildlife Crimes Control Unit, said the Forest Department has so far given licenses for 70 percent of captive elephants. “And when we find that the owners of the elephants violate rules, we cancel their licenses,” he claimed.


Dr Tapan said and there is no way to release the captive elephants in forests as the country’s forests are shrinking day by day.


“If we release the elephants in the forests, they’ll be at loggerheads with the wild elephants creating a chaotic situation. So, we can manage them through ecotourism promotion. Chunoti forests located in Chakoria Upzila of Cox’s Bazar district could be one of the best places to promote ecotourism engaging captive elephants,” he said.


Terming elephant handling a hard task, Dr Monirul H Khan said if the captive elephants are involved in ecotourism promotion allover the country, both the owners of elephants and the authorities will be benefited from it.


During 2002-2006, the number of captive elephants in Bangladesh was 94. They were mostly used in the timber industry and circuses. The mahouts and the owners are largely ignorant of the legal status of their elephants and even the necessary diet for a captive elephant.

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