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
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
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.