By Dipendra Baduwal
The tourist hotspot of Sauraha has not only seen an aggressive development of hotels and resorts over the past few years, but entrepreneurs are also investing heavily in elephant as safari.
Around Rs 330 million has been invested in rearing elephants. Elephants have become an integral part of tour packages of hotels and resorts here.
Situated in the lush tropical plains of southern Nepal, Chitwan attracts safari goers with its rich wildlife and thick jungles.
There are 51 elephants owned by hoteliers and cooperatives in Sauraha .
“It’s not easy to operate hotels here without elephants,” said Balram Dahal, chairman of United Elephant Cooperative. “Operators used to hire elephants from India in the past, but the government has controlled the hiring. “The cost of elephant ranges from Rs 4.8 million to Rs 8.2 million.”
Nowadays, every new hotelier buys elephant as the packages are incomplete with the animal which has became a major product to attract tourists. All big hotels developed in the western part of Chitwan—Patihani, Jagatpur and Megauli—have reared elephants. In the last three years, 20 new hotels have been constructed in Sauraha and another 10 are under construction. There are 100 hotels in the area, among which 85 are in operation.
Besides Sauraha , other areas in the district have also witnessed construction of new hotels and resorts. Luxury hotels are being built on the banks of Rapti and Narayani rivers. Patihani, Jagatpur, Sukranagar and Meghauli are other centres of attraction for investors.
“Investing millions of rupees in rearing elephants is our compulsion. Without elephant safari, we can’t think of business,” said Dahal.
However, the existing number of elephants is still inadequate to meet the demand.
An elephant lives for around 70 years. Tourism entrepreneur Deependra Khatiwada said rearing an elephant is an expensive affair. The daily cost to feed an elephant stands at around Rs 2,000, and at least two mahouts have to be employed.
Private operators charge Rs 700 for per individual to Nepalis, while the fee for Saarc nationals the fee is Rs 9,000. Other tourists are charged Rs 1,100 per head.
The cooperative’s secretary Damador Regmi said it contributed Rs 6.9 million in revenue to the government.
The cooperative collects the fees and distribute to elephant owners every fortnightly.
“An owner receives around
Rs 45,000 every fortnightly,” he said.
Operators have demanded the government introduce insurance coverage in the elephant safari business, citing the health risks to the animals.