Pricey Pachyderms – The Market for Captured Baby Elephants

Minneriya elephants during 'The Gathering', August 2012. Image by author.

Minneriya elephants during ‘The Gathering’, August 2012. Image by author.

So aside from today being International Youth Day, apparently it’s also ‘World Elephant Day’! Elephants have strong historic and cultural ties in Sri Lanka – from working elephants that carried logs or fought alongside kings in ancient Sri Lanka, to the present day parading of them in elaborate costumes at Buddhist peraheras. So on ‘World Elephant Day’ today my mind went back to some startling numbers on the ‘economics’ of domesticating wild elephants that I heard at an event I attended in June. The event was titled ‘Elephus Maximus Problemus’ and was a fundraiser to support a legal and advocacy campaign to stop the unlawful capturing and domesticating of wild elephants. The key speaker Vimukthi Weeratunga, a wildlife expert and activist, revealed that the going price for illegally procuring a single baby elephant from the wild was a staggering Rs. 11.5 million! And once captured and domesticated, you could earn between Rs. 250,000 – 300,000 a month by renting an elephant out for tourist fun rides and parades. Such is the unfortunate economics of captured baby elephants in Sri Lanka. Weeratunga told us of horror stories of instances across Sri Lanka where baby elephants had being captured and kept illegally and in terrible circumstances. Elephants belong in the wild. The only ‘economics of elephants’ I’m willing to tolerate is the tourism revenue brought from ‘The Gathering’ at Minneriya National Park. But that too is increasingly getting out of control, thanks to indisciplined and inconsiderate safari jeep drivers.



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