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SOS Rhino : In the News : Assam's elephant carnival casts spell on tourists

Assam's elephant carnival casts spell on tourists


13 January 2003
Syed Zarir Hussain
Indo-Asian News Service

Kaziranga (Assam) - The elephants danced, played football and marched to the delight of the mass of tourists gathered to watch the majestic animals in this rhino country.

It was a carnival with a difference - 275 draught elephants gleefully playing and trumpeting to thunderous cheers from their human admirers.

The venue could not have been more apt -- the wet savannah grasslands inside the 430-sq-km Kaziranga National Park in the northeastern Indian state of Assam.
From playing football and dancing to taking enthusiasts on wildlife safaris in the sprawling rhino sanctuary, the elephants were in their most enthusiastic mood during a two-day Elephant Festival that concluded Sunday.

" It was a grand spectacle to see so many elephants at one time," remarked Mark Shand, a British wildlife expert and author of the book, Queen of the Elephants.

The highpoint of the festival was a colourful procession by 275 elephants over a stretch of two kilometres, led by cultural troupes beating drums and cymbals.

Assam is home to about 5,500 of India's 10,000 wild elephant population. There are an estimated 2,500 domestic elephants in Assam.

For many, including a number of wildlife fans worldwide, a glimpse of the elephants taking a community bath in a nearby stream was a sight best seen than told.

" I just cannot describe in words the sight of the majestic elephants playing in water, totally oblivious of the outside world," said Parag Jyoti Das, a tourist. "It is a lifetime experience."

The Elephant Festival, organised by the Assam government, was aimed at promoting eco-tourism, besides creating an awareness drive to reduce the increasing man-animal conflict in the region.

" We wanted to achieve the twin objective of promoting tourism and creating a level of awareness among locals about the need to protect and conserve elephants in the state," Assam Forest Minister Pradyut Bordoloi said.
About 15,000 people lustily cheered when expert animal catchers enacted a mock elephant capturing session.
The crowd went into raptures when an elephant started dancing and saluting the gathering.

" It all depends on how caring a caretaker you are. If you love him, the elephant would never disobey your commands," said Arun Mali, a mahout.

The festival assumes significance in the context of the man-elephant conflict in Assam.

In the past two years, at least 150 people were trampled to death by elephants in Assam. Angry villagers have killed up to 200 pachyderms using poisoned tipped arrows or mixing toxic chemicals laced in jackfruits.

" A depleting forest cover and encroachment of elephant corridors have been forcing elephants to stray out their habitats and enter human settlements," said noted elephant catcher Parbati Baruah.

" Holding this kind of festivals would definitely help in creating awareness," he told IANS.

Some people also kill elephants for its meat and hack out the ivory tusks that fetch a hefty price in the international market. A kilogram of elephant tusk sells for Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000.

A full-grown elephant has tusks weighing up to 10 kg, which can earn poor villagers an amount equal to more than three years of wages, forest rangers say.



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