Elephants in Nepal: Correlating disease, tourism, and welfare



Asian elephants and humans have long shared their lives, but recent changes in human perspectives on animal use have created ripples through the small country of Nepal. Captive elephants are caught in the crossfire between local communities, elephant owners, mahouts, and NGOs in debates over their treatment, health, welfare and use in tourism. In addi- tion, zoonotic disease, natural disasters and political strife affect the lives of captive elephants and mahouts. For example, during the COVID-19 pan- demic, elephants, caregivers and owners found themselves facing income loss, decreased welfare from housing and husbandry issues, and food shortages. Many owners sold elephants, fired mahouts, and “quit” the tourism industry. Others sought help from outside organizations, com- munity members, and governmental agencies to retain ownership of what they viewed as valuable commodities. NGOs and grassroots organizations assisted in the hopes of keeping elephants in Nepal, thus preventing them from long, treacherous walks across the border and into situations where they might face further welfare decreases. This article combines elephant stable visits and interviews with mahouts, owners, NGO, and government staff between January 2019 and December 2021. It highlights the ongoing health and welfare challenges faced by elephants and mahouts in Nepal.

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