IIAS Newsletter 49 Autumn 2008

Captive elephant management, the Tharu, and the Nepali state

Piers Locke

Elephants feature strongly in the mythologies of Hindu and Buddhist literature, and captive elephants have served as symbols of political power throughout South Asia. Historically, the state has sponsored captive elephant management, engendering oral traditions of expertise codified in the Gaja Sastra literature. Evidence of this textual tradition is found in Nepal where the Tharu people became the local specialists, dominating the capture and management of elephants, which have served as a commodity for imperial tribute, vehicles for regal hunting safaris, and recently as resources for biodiversity conservation and nature tourism.

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