Ecotourism in Nepal – Visiting an elephant sanctuary

19 December 2011 | News story

CEC member Yvonne Otieno describes her experience in Chitwan National Park.

2011 was declared Tourism year in Nepal and since I happened to be living in Nepal, I took this chance to go on an Ecotourism adventure to Chitwan accompanied with a friend. Here we witnessed how the community lives with nature and the elephants are used as part of biodiversity conservation. By Yvonne Otieno

High temperatures and women drying rice on the main road is what welcomed us to Chitwan. The park is 20 minutes by air or 146km by road from Kathmandu . We choose to go by road. When we arrived we noticed a marked change in the we experienced in the early part of our road trip from Kathmandu - Instead of rows and endless rows of mountains, the land is plain but green.

In Chitwan, there are two main attractions, one is a visit to the elephant sanctuary and the second is a visit to Chitwan National park which can be done by Jungle Safari on elephant back, jungle walk , canoe ride or jeep drive.

Owing to its rich adornment of Nature, Chitwan National Park was declared UNESCO Natural Heritage site in 1984. The park that includes part of Shivaki hills is covered with deciduous forests overlooking the flood plains of Narayani, Rapti and Reu rivers.

I settled for the ride on the elephant back. But first was a visit to the elephant sanctuary. Here we stayed at Green Mansions Resort- a place with spacious cottages and no distraction from the modern world through television or internet connection. Green Mansions also boast of a wonderful restaurant where we had the best chicken curry in Nepal to date.

They also friendly staff who are and punctual in attending to guests programmes. It is from Green Mansions that we visited the elephant sanctuary, went for a Tharu cultural dance and an elephant ride to the jungle. We were the only guest during this season I,e june but we are told that the best time to visit is in between October and March.

The elephant sanctuary

The walk to the sanctuary took fifteen minutes from Green Mansions Resort. On our way to the sanctuary we had to cross BhudhiI Rapti River, 20 km long.

“It’s called Bhudhi Rapti because its flows slowly like an old lady walking. Bhudhi means old lady and Rapti means river,” our guide tells us.

When we were at the center, there was an elephant which had just delivered twins a couple of weeks earlier. We were told this is a rare occurrence.

The elephant breeding center was established to increase on the number of elephants needed to help in the conservation activities.

The objectives of the breeding center include: To enhance scientific knowledge related to elephant reproduction, husbandry, nutrition and health. 31 live elephants calves have been born in the center since 1997 till the end of 2009.Only the female elephants are kept at the center except the young baby elephants.

Each elephant has three staff to take care of it – a trainer, a feeder and a rider.

Each elephant is fed a concentrate feed of 15kg of rice, 1.5kg of molasses and 25gram of salt daily. The calves start receiving training when two to four years old. The details of the vigorous training of the elephants are explained to visitors during the visit to the center while there are also some reading materials to take away. But generally an elephant is trained in the course of 20days to one month. The best time to visit the centre is at feeding time.5.00pm in the evening.

In the ancient times trained elephants were used in warfare, transportation, big game hunting and cultural, religious and royal ceremonies.

“Elephants can serve as all terrain and all weather vehicles, they have been very useful in forest patrolling, ecotourism and various activities of wildlife management and research in the Terai National Parks and Reserves,” our guide explains

Elephant jungle ride

The elephant takes tourists to the deepest end of the jungle and it is considered thesafest way to watch the wildlife from a close range. We were lucky to experience one such tour jungle. The jungle ride takes place in the morning before the temperatures rise.

The jungle ride was tiring and scary at the same time since we were five including the driver seated on the elephant. The slow heavy movement of the elephant made want me clench to the protection provided by the cage we sat on. However it was one life time experience” My friend Cathy from Uganda says

For me, It was an adventure. I felt excitement mixed with a tinge of anxiety for our safety. I knew this was an experience I could never experience back home in Kenya.

We had the opportunity to see wild boars, deer, rhino, monkeys, and different species of birds but were told that the deeper into the jungle one goes, the more you get to see.

There are around 600plant species, 56 mammals,539 birds and 49 amphibians and reptiles round the park. The highlight s are the Asian one horned rhinoceros ( which we got to see) and some Bengal tigers that live in the dense forest of the park.

There is fence around the park that helps avoid wildlife from invading the villages but also helps to prevent villagers from getting into the park to cut trees for fire word. However, once a year the villagers, are allowed to get into the park areas to cut down some elephant grass used in the construction of their houses.

Most of the local people from the Tharu community. The Tharu use elephant grass (Nep-khar) to roof their houses. Only a skill ful person can make the roof by using the grass. This grass is water proof and it helps keep the house cool, however it needs to be replaced every year.

This is usually a well planned and organized exercise and since the villagers benefit from the tourist visiting the area, they are often very protective of the park which the value as their heritage.

For me , the visit to Chitwan and the elephant ride was a one hour interaction with nature that we shall never forget and forms on of my best experiences in 2011.

For more information, contact Yvonne Otieno black.smith@gmail.com