Visiting the elephant breeding center in Chitwan to see a baby elephant

by Dave from The Longest Way Home ~ October 8th, 2012. Published in: Travel blog » Nepal.
Row of elephants eating at Chitwan elephant breeding center

Row of elephants eating dinner at Chitwan elephant breeding center

Visiting the Elephant breeding center in Chitwan

Actually the elephant breeding center is located in the town immediately beside Chitwan called Sauraha. But no matter as most people visiting Chitwan stay in Sauraha so it’s easy to get to.

While there are package tours to the breeding center that cost anywhere between 200-500 rupees which includes transport back and forth. I’ve already been lambasted with “everything is a tour” in Sauraha so I walked to the elephant breeding center independently.

Walking to the elephant breeding center in Sauraha

When you refute the idea of paying for a package tour in Sauraha the information stops flowing. While I knew the exact direction to the elephant breeding center I did wonder about walking past a few turn offs and things like crossing over the river on a rickety bridge. Locals are generally quite friendly when you ask them if you are headed in the right direction though.

Chitwan's Elephant Breeding Center

Chitwan’s Elephant Breeding Center

It took me about an hour from Sauraha town center (3km). It’s meant to take 45 mins so I’m not sure if I took a wrong turn along the way or not. But, either way the walk was enjoyable though hot and humid for the time of year. It’s a nice little sampling of rural lowland Nepal to take this walk rather than a tour.

Elephant breeding centers museum

After paying 50 rupees to enter the Elephant Breeding center I was quickly pointed to the indoor museum to the left. A small single room that was in dire need of heat ventilation. A young man waved me back as I entered and saw me cringe at the wall of heat.

I couldn’t quite get why he seemed so enthusiastic about me visiting the museum. He also seemed a little disappointed when after responding to his wave I just stood there. I mumbled something about the heat and he reached around a corner and turned a ceiling fan on. I went back in and noticed the man looked a little bashful at some tourists that had just arrived.

Shaking the weird experience off I toured the room that had a few elephant bones, riding equipment and many framed information posters containing facts about  … elephants.  It was actually quite interesting as truth be told I didn’t know much about how to breed elephants or its history here.

I’ll write a post with some details a little later as it’s certainly quite different and controversial to what you might otherwise think.

Taking a walk around the elephant breeding center

Outside the cooler hot air of Chitwan came as a small relief. I had no idea where to start so I just wandered over to where the group of tourists with the weird man were standing in a huddle.

There were lot’s off coo’s and aww’s going on when I arrived. As everyone was looking in the opposite direction I didn’t figure it was because of my sweat soaked shirted body arriving. No they were all chuckling over a baby elephant haplessly playing with a bunch of grass.

Baby elephant and mother at the Elephant breeding center in Chitwan

Baby elephant and mother at the Elephant breeding center in Chitwan

As if pandering to the crowd the little chap would try to copy his mother and scoop up some long grass and throw it up on to his head. Yes, I’ll have to admit that was quite irresistibly cute.

A memory card of photos used up on this repeat performance and I moved on up to the long row of elephants up a head. They were also performing the same party trick but a little older so the tourist tour in front of me didn’t hang around as long.

Sadly I felt much the same way.

Elephants with chains

I will admit that the first time I saw the baby elephant earlier I tried my best to ignore the fact he had a large chain around his foot. With the older elephants it was more apparent. Mainly because they were all in a row much akin to a chain gang of sorts.

Baby elephant at sunset in Chitwan

Chitwan’s elephant breeding center: not an overwhelming great place to visit – but still well worth it for a baby elephant and some education!

This was actually the first time I’d seen an elephant chained up. The other times I’ve seen elephants have been wild in West Africa or walking with mahouts. It was a little off-putting to see that. In an elephant breeding center they needed to be chained but when out working they didn’t. Logically it makes sense, but emotionally not so much.

I’d later find out why this was but it’s certainly something to take note of if visiting with children etc. It’s also one of the reasons why a quick independent tour of that small museum is beneficial before going out to the main area!

Is the elephant breeding center worth a visit?

Yes, is my short answer. If only because it’s one of the few things you can do on your own without a mandatory tour. I watched the 250 rupee per person tour as they made their way around. Very little was said that you couldn’t learn from the museum. The only benefit seemed that they drove you there and back. Personally I enjoyed the walk around Sauraha to get there.

If you are staying in Sauraha or Chitwan the elephant breeding center is certainly worth the 30 mins it takes to slowly walk around it. I walked around a few times and enjoyed the late afternoon watching a mother elephant frolic with her energetic baby along with a few older elephants rolling around in the dust.

And, most interestingly of all –  learning about how mahouts train the elephants for work in the jungle and for tourist tours. Which, I’ll cover next!

Coming soon:

Breeding & training elephants in Chitwan to save them from extinction 

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13 Great responses to Visiting the elephant breeding center in Chitwan to see a baby elephant

  1. This would be a dream come true for me!

  2. Marlys says:

    What a coincidence! I just had a very vivid dream about a baby elephant who had been terribly neglected it was barely skin and bones. I’ve read so many articles about the abuse of elephants for tourism use and reading about a baby elephant in chains make for sad reading.

    • Hi Marlys, well I have to say I’ve not seen elephants mistreated here. At least in terms of starvation etc. More on that next week. But yes, as someone who’s only ever seen elephants free seeing them chained up was disturbing.

  3. Ivy says:

    Hello Dave. It’s fantastic to read about animals all over the world! Elephants are very sensible and intelligent animals, so, if they are chained up it’s because they would escape if they could. My question is: are the elephants happy in their breeding center? The answer will be “no”, isn’t it?

    • Hi Ivy, They are indeed very intelligent. I’ll be writing directly about this next week in terms of the life of an elephant etc. To answer you now about if they are happy? I don’t think anything would be happy chained up. They would however do damage if not. And, the breeding program would fail… Stay tuned, there’s a discussion next week.

  4. Mark Chivers says:

    Great photos of elephants Dave. Looking forward to the next instalment. Always good to get your realist views on life and travel!

  5. Jan says:

    Loved this in a way. Tragic to see such a baby elephant all chained up. Good to see someone like you there to tell us about it. Thank you.

  6. Jesse says:

    We’ve seen a baby elephant sometime in Bali Indonesia and my 5 year old ask why it looks so big yet it still a baby. :)

  7. Ahhh it reminds me of that scene in Disney’s Dumbo were he’s separated from his mother and sees her chained up in a cart. So sad, never fails to bring a tear to my eye. Fortunately these elephants look a lot happier!