23RD DECEMBER 2019
AN OPEN LETTER ADDRESSED TO:
Honorable Prime Minister Mr K P Sharma Oli
Director General Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Gopal Prakash Bhattarai
Honourable Minister of Forests and Environment Shakti Bahadur Basnet
Honourable Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Yogesh Bhattarai
Nepal Tourism Board
NEPAL ELEPHANT POLO TOURNAMENT
Recent news about the organization of an Elephant polo tournament in Nepal has drawn our attention and concern. The undersigned international Elephant experts representing various fields respectfully ask that you stop this year’s Elephant Polo event and ensure such activities will be discontinued in the future. The reasons for our concerns are as follows:
Indian Rulers (Aristocrats) and Western colonists established Elephant Polo in the early 20th century as a form of entertainment. The game was introduced in Nepal in 1982 as a way to increase tourism. In the game, nine Elephants (4 from one side, 4 from another side, and one referee), are each ridden by a mahout and a player. The mahout forces the Elephant to run after the ball, threatening pain and punishment if the Elephant does not respond accordingly.
Elephant Polo has been permanently discontinued in Thailand and Sri Lanka following exposure of abusive treatment prior to and during the event. The official Elephant Polo games held in Nepal and hosted by Tiger Tops were discontinued in 2017.
In December 2018 an Elephant polo tournament was held in Sauraha, drawing international criticism and exposing the abusive treatment of the Elephants. Despite this, the Elephant owners are now contemplating another Elephant Polo game.
Animal Welfare concerns
Asian Elephants are considered endangered, which is reflected by the prohibition on international trade in the species for commerce by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Contrary to popular opinion, Elephants have never been domesticated. They are biologically and psychological wild animals for which cruel training is employed in order to maintain a great amount of control over them. These practices result in permanent psychological and physical trauma.
Using captive-held Elephants for entertainment such as polo involves a wide range of factors that raise animal welfare concerns:
Due to the competitive nature of the game, mahouts push the Elephants to their limit. During the game the mahout controls and communicates with the Elephant in three ways: use of harsh and loud commands; continually and forcefully kicking the backside of the elephant’s ears; and use of a sharp weapon to pierce the sensitive flesh of the Elephant and inflict pain, forcing compliance for this very unfamiliar and unnatural activity. This is not only stressful for the elephant but also harmful.
The high density of captive-held Elephants in one location can result in aggression and stress in the Elephants, resulting in mahouts using even more force by hitting and stabbing the elephants with sticks, hooks, axes, and other sharp weapons to maintain control. In Sauraha, the use of such weapons by mahouts on Elephants used for Polo is well documented.
The large groups of spectators that often come close to the Elephants pose an additional stress factor to the Elephants and can result in serious injuries to bystanders.
Exhibiting one of the most intelligent, complex, and endangered species on our planet in this manner leads to the public’s misconception about the true nature of Elephants and the need for protection of Elephants. Wildlife entertainment, such as Elephant Polo, has no educational value and merely displays Elephants as commercial commodities – an outdated and irresponsible message, given the critical environmental threats Elephants face at this time.
Elephants are used for anti-poaching patrols and elephant-back safaris in Sauraha. They are not physically or mentally prepared to participate in this athletically demanding game. As result, Elephants can sustain irreversible injuries that will plague them for the remainder of their lives. Furthermore, it has been indicated that they are haunted with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) common to human victims of torture and deprivation.
In Hindu culture, the Elephant is regarded as a sacred animal. According to Scripture, the elephant-headed God, Lord Ganesh, is the deity that resolves crises and removes obstacles; Japanese Buddhism regards Lord Ganesh the God of bliss. Given this context, using Elephants as props for human entertainment could be considered sacrilegious.
We respectfully ask that you cancel this year’s Elephant Polo event and discontinue the game in the future. Should you continue to offer Elephant Polo, it could negatively impact tourism and the local community that depends on it. Elephant Polo is a very short-sighted plan to generate profit that should be replaced with an alternative income for Elephant owners through transitioning towards sustainable, Elephant-friendly, observation-only activities in collaboration with responsible travel industry leaders. This model is the only sustainable pathway to providing better care for captive-held Elephants in Nepal, while embracing positive, engaging, and environmentally friendly tourism.
Nepal has been an international leader in many arenas. By prohibiting Elephant polo and committing to their dignity and freedom, Nepal will again provide inspiration for other nations.
We look forward to hearing from you on this urgent issue, in hopeful anticipation of your immediate actions.
SIGNED BY FREN ELEPHANT EXPERTS AND MEMBER ORGANISATIONS
Suparna Baksi-Ganguly President and Co-Founder, Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Center, Bangalore, India
Dr Brett Bard Veterinarian, South Africa
Dr Jessica Bell Rizzolo Postdoctoral Researcher, the Conservation Criminology Lab, Dep of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University
Dr Keith Lindsay Conservation Biologist, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Kenya
Professor David Bilchitz Director, the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public and Human Rights and International Law
Antoinette Van de Water Director, Bring the Elephant Home, Elephant Specialist
Advisory Group South Africa
Dr Gay Bradshaw Director, Kerulos Center for Nonviolence – USA
Carol Buckley Director, Elephant Aid International
Dr Joyce Poole Co-Director, Co-Founder ElephantVoices, Kenya
Dr Betsy Coville Wildlife Veterinarian – USA
Audrey Delsink Wildlife Director, the Humane Society International (Africa), Elephant Ecologist
Catherine Doyle Director of Science Research and Advocacy, Performing Animal Welfare Society USA
Michele Franko Senior Research Associate – Elephant Care & Wellbeing at the Kerulos Center for Nonviolence – USA
Mark Jones Veterinarian, Born Free Foundation United Kingdom
Dr Marion Garai Chairperson, Elephant Specialist Advisory Group and Trustee Elephant Reintegration Trust
Dr Paula Kahumbu WildlifeDirect, Kenya
Dr Ross Harvey Economist, Botswana
Dr Michelle Henley Director, ElephantsAlive! – Elephant Specialist Advisory Group, South Africa
Alok Hissarwala Gupta Elephant Specialist, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations
Iris Ho The Humane Society International
Professor Mohan Kharel Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal
Dr Winnie Kiiru Founder, Conservation Kenya
Petter Granli Co-Director, Co-Founder, ElephantVoices, Kenya
Giorgio Lombardi Warden Vogelgat Private Nature Reserve, M.S. Rhodes University, South Africa
Brett Mitchell Director, Elephant Reintergration Trust
Sharon Pincott Elephant Behavioural Specialist, ex-Hwange, Zimbabwe
Dr Yolanda Pretorius SA Wildlife College, Elephant Specialist Advisory Group and Elephant Reintegration Trust, South Africa
Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach Head of Wildlife Research and Animal Welfare, World Animal Protection International
Dr DJ Schubert Wildlife Biologist, Animal Welfare Institute – USA
Ed Stewart Director, The Performing Animal Welfare Society
Michele Pickover Director of the Ems Foundation
Peter Stroud Independent Zoological Consultant – Former Zoo Director, Australia
Prof Dan Wylie Rhodes University, South Africa
This letter is also signed by:
Smaragda Louw Director Ban Animal Trading, South Africa
Amy P. Wilson Director, Animal Law Reform South Africa
Lenin Chisaira Founder, Advocates 4 Earth – Green Law Connect, Zimbabwe
Johanna Hamburger Wildlife Attorney, Animal Welfare Institute – USA
Jim Karani Advocate, Lawyers for Animal Protection in Africa
Linda Masudze Advocate 4 Earth, Zimbabwe
Mary Morrison Advocate, WildlifeDirect, Kenya
Varda Mehrotra Executive Director, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations
Megan Carr Vice-President, Global March for Elephants and Rhinos
Nomusa Dube Founder, Zimbabwe Elephant Foundation
Penny Banham Conservation Project Officer, Born Free Foundation UK
Stefania Falcon Co-Founder, Future 4 Wildlife, South Africa
Chief Stephen Fritz Traditional Leader, Members of the South Peninsula Customary Khoisan Council South Africa
Rachel Harris Managing Director, Elephant Human Relationship Aid, Namibia
Lynne James Committee Member, Mutare SPCA, Zimbabwe
Kahindi Lekalhaile Africa Network for Animal Welfare, Kenya