A GATHERING OF ELEPHANTS: The Sonepur Mela, Bihar, India
The Sonepur Mela, also known as the Harihar Kshetra Mela, is held every year during November-December and is Asia’s largest cattle fair. The major attraction is the trading of livestock such as horses, bulls, buffaloes, camels, dogs, and birds. Elephants are also a special attraction of the Mela.
Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) has been conducting health camps for captive elephants in the town of Sonepur since 2001 and AES was able to help support the 2015 health care camp. Attendance has been spiraling downward from 92 elephants in 2001 to only 14 in 2015, a decline of 84% in 14 years. This is mainly due to increasing regulations regarding the movement, sale, and trading of captive elephants.
During the Mela, WTI will de-worm all the elephants, treat any minor wounds, and give the mahouts instructions on foot care. Data is also collected each year to record the status of elephants participating in the Mela. Responses from owners and mahouts showed that the average length of time a mahout cares for the same elephant is 4.18 years, which is not considered sufficient for good bonding between mahout and elephant. However, all elephants were reported to be obedient and none of elephants had any history of killing or injuring a mahout. Of the data collected, one was a temple elephant, four worked in the tourist industry, and six were unemployed. All elephants had some sort of shelter at their area of residence, both day and night. All except one was off tether for at least some portion of each day and the mahouts claimed all the elephants are walked during the day. Only one elephant was kept in a group of more than one elephant, 11 have some opportunity to interact with other elephants, and three could not interact with other elephants.
While the results of the information gathered at the Mela leave us with at least as many questions as answers provided, it is important to track such statistics as we consider the current status and future of India’s magnificent Asian elephants. If you would like to read more the report from the 2015 Sonepur Mela, please visit our website here. Our thanks to YOU, our donors, for supporting these efforts.