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Chapter One

Introduction


Elephants are a part of the natural wealth of a country in which they are found and if the era of profit from this long-suffering and outstandingly loveable animal has gone never to return, there must be all the more an awakening to the realisation that they are now our responsibility. The main hope lies in the fact that in the East where the domestication of the elephant is part of the very culture of the people. If this were not the case, the future would look very dim indeed. It is up to man, the elephant’s friend through out the ages to take decisive steps to ensure its preservation if this animal is not to face intolerable pressure for existence”    
                                                                                                                                          Stracey p. 223

A close relationship between Asian elephant and man has been recorded for at least 4,000 years, the earliest evidence being in the form of seals showing captive elephants during the Harappan civilisation (Sukumar 2003). Traditions of elephant capture, taming, keeping, handling and utilising for work developed in most Asian countries where wild elephants are found today. The range countries of wild elephants are India, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Myanmar, China, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Cambodia, Lao PDR and Vietnam. In Asia, elephant keeping traditions had strong links to particular communities. In most of these range countries, the skills of mahoutship or knowledge of elephant keeping and handling have been associated with certain indigenous communities or religious sects. The livelihood, culture and religious beliefs of such communities revolve intimately around the elephants they rear, handle and live with. These skills and knowledge, however, have generally not been incorporated in the modern understanding of various aspects of elephant care.

Captive elephants in Asian range countries can be defined as elephants that are wild caught or captive born, trained to do specific works, having standard husbandry practices, veterinary care, feeding often with supplementation and maintained under intensive management. Captive elephants in Asian range countries are usually quite different from other animals that are kept either for economic or sentimental reasons. Hence, the veterinary curricula at universities in most of the range countries do not give significance to elephant management. However, this is not to undermine the fact that there are some centres of study that have emerged in some veterinary colleges in these countries. Of late, a lot of importance has been attached to capacity building in elephant management, using a three tier module at the levels of veterinarian, manager/owner and mahout. This book is intended for the first and second levels of capacity building, viz., veterinarians and managers.