Elephants a drain on state exchequer

Elephants a drain on state exchequer
Ravik Bhattacharya in Kolkata

The Statesman, India
25 Oct. 2004

Oct. 24. — Tamed pachyderms have become Bengal’s white elephants.
There is a sudden glut in elephants bred in captivity in West Bengal,
and the state’s cash-strapped forest department is finding it difficult
to maintain them.

There are 76 of them now in the state’s reserve forests stretching the
state’s means, but the authorities have allegedly ignored opportunities
to “gift away” some of the animals to other states and countries.

The elephants are a drain on the resources till they reach the age
of 8-10 years or six ft in height when they can be put to use, local
elephant experts said. Trained elephants are usually used to patrol
forests, carry tourists on jungle safaris and capture wild animals,
particularly untamed elephants.

Jaldapara, Buxa and Gorumara in north Bengal are home to these animals
along with their trainers.

Forest officials said these trained elephants were breeding fast and
it was becoming difficult for them to maintain them.

The forest department has identified more than a dozen elephants
from the 76 now available that could be given away to others, but
the government reportedly hasn’t moved on the suggestion.

“It requires a lot of money to maintain elephants bred in captivity.
Besides, a large number of trained manpower is needed to train these
animals,” a forest official said.

One option is to give away the animals to others needing them. And
there are quite a few takers at home and abroad.

But the state government is unmoved. It recently let slip a chance
to send one of the 76 elephants to Armenia as a gift to its President
Robert Kocharian.

There is a male elephant in Armenia’s Yerevan Zoo, but it needs a
female companion. Bengal’s forest officials had chosen Shakuntala,
a six-year-old well-mannered young elephant. However, the government
sat on the proposal and now Shakuntala has missed the flight.

Instead, Komala, a seven-and-a-half year old female elephant from
Mysore zoo has been flown to Armenia on 15 October. Other states
have also asked West Bengal for elephants, but the state government
is not acting yet.

“After a point it will be difficult to maintain any more trained
elephants. There is a glut already. We need to take steps before
these become really and truly white elephants,” an official said.

“There are various reasons behind the elephants getting costly day
by day. Firstly, the population of elephants have multiplied, but not
their utility. Previously they were used in the log and timber industry
but now machines can do the job faster,” said Mr Pradip Kumar Vyas,
director Sunderban Tiger Reserve and a wildlife expert.

“More over the elephant rides in the state is highly subsidised. You
earn less than you spend on these animals. Female elephants are used
in tourist rides because of their good temperament, yet during and
after pregnancy they are unusable for months. Last but not least,
there were many takers for elephants in the past, including the
royalty and the rich . Now they hardly have any takers,” said Mr Vyas.