Chitwan National Park (CNP), which is situated in the lush tropical plains of southern Nepal, has come up with an innovative approach to create an environment where working elephants can live in a safe and pain-free environment.
On Monday, five female pachyderms that had lived a life full of pain, used to being tortured by their handlers and chained on their front legs and shackled, were released into a chain-free enclosure with solar-powered electric fencing. With this, CNP, a world heritage property that boasts the best habitat for a good number of endangered tigers and rhinos, has become the first ever protected area in the country (and probably also in the world) to release all its 63 working elephants into chain-free enclosures.
“It is a great achievement for us. We have been successful in providing a better habitat and treatment for the working elephants that are forced to go through the barbaric practice of being chained on their legs and subjected to severe beatings while being trained for work,” said Kamal Jung Kunwar, chief conservation officer at the CNP. Under the ‘Chain Free Means Pain Free’ effort initiated by Carol Buckley, an international leader in the care and trauma recovery of elephants, inside CNP in 2014, all the 63 elephants employed by the park for various purposes were freed from their life in chains and allowed to roam freely inside their own one-acre corral. Of the total 63 elephants freed from CNP and currently housed in chain-free enclosures with solar fencing, 43 are female, 10 are male and remaining 10 are calves.
Lack of treatment, care, food and the culture of chaining the elephants had made their situation unbearable.
Buckley, an American conservationist associated with Elephant Aid International, had with active support from the National Trust for Nature Conservation (NTNC) and park authorities initiated the pilot project aimed to end the barbaric practice of keeping the elephants under chains and making them go through severe torture and beatings with iron rod. During the first phase of the project started in 2014, a total of 33 elephants were introduced to the chain-free corral while the remaining 33 elephants were freed this year.
At the moment, each working elephant is provided with its own enclosure complete with solar fencing. The Mahouts, who were practicing the traditional training pattern that involved beating and chaining the elephants in order to subjugate them, are now given training on “compassionate treatment” of elephants. “There is growing concerns over the poor treatment and unsafe living conditions for working elephants employed by park authorities and private owners across the globe. We at the CNP wanted to set an example on proper treatment of elephants by providing them the freedom they deserve so as to keep them in proper physical and mental state,” Kunwar said.
According to Kunwar, unlike female elephants and calves, the male elephants freed from their corrals are of big concern, as during the mating season they become aggressive and are likely to break the solar fences. “We want to build a double layer of fencing for the males so that they cannot come out from their enclosures and harm others,” he added.