Honorable Prime Minister Mr K P Sharma Oli

Director General Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Gopal Prakash Bhattarai

Honourable Minister of Forests and Environment Shakti Bahadur Basnet

Honourable Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Yogesh Bhattarai 

Nepal Tourism Board 


Recent news about the organization of an Elephant polo tournament in Nepal has drawn our attention and concern. The undersigned international Elephant experts representing various fields respectfully ask that you stop this year’s Elephant Polo event and ensure such activities will be discontinued in the future. The reasons for our concerns are as follows:


Indian Rulers (Aristocrats) and Western colonists established Elephant Polo in the early 20th century as a form of entertainment. The game was introduced in Nepal in 1982 as a way to increase tourism. In the game, nine Elephants (4 from one side, 4 from another side, and one referee), are each ridden by a mahout and a player. The mahout forces the Elephant to run after the ball, threatening pain and punishment if the Elephant does not respond accordingly.

Elephant Polo has been permanently discontinued in Thailand and Sri Lanka following exposure of abusive treatment prior to and during the event. The official Elephant Polo games held in Nepal and hosted by Tiger Tops were discontinued in 2017.

In December 2018 an Elephant polo tournament was held in Sauraha, drawing international criticism and exposing the abusive treatment of the Elephants. Despite this, the Elephant owners are now contemplating another Elephant Polo game.

Animal Welfare concerns

Asian Elephants are considered endangered, which is reflected by the prohibition on international trade in the species for commerce by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Contrary to popular opinion, Elephants have never been domesticated. They are biologically and psychological wild animals for which cruel training is employed in order to maintain a great amount of control over them. These practices result in permanent psychological and physical trauma.

Using captive-held Elephants for entertainment such as polo involves a wide range of factors that raise animal welfare concerns:

 Due to the competitive nature of the game, mahouts push the Elephants to their limit. During the game the mahout controls and communicates with the Elephant in three ways: use of harsh and loud commands; continually and forcefully kicking the backside of the elephant’s ears; and use of a sharp weapon to pierce the sensitive flesh of the Elephant and inflict pain, forcing compliance for this very unfamiliar and unnatural activity. This is not only stressful for the elephant but also harmful.

 The high density of captive-held Elephants in one location can result in aggression and stress in the Elephants, resulting in mahouts using even more force by hitting and stabbing the elephants with sticks, hooks, axes, and other sharp weapons to maintain control. In Sauraha, the use of such weapons by mahouts on Elephants used for Polo is well documented.

 The large groups of spectators that often come close to the Elephants pose an additional stress factor to the Elephants and can result in serious injuries to bystanders.

 Exhibiting one of the most intelligent, complex, and endangered species on our planet in this manner leads to the public’s misconception about the true nature of Elephants and the need for protection of Elephants. Wildlife entertainment, such as Elephant Polo, has no educational value and merely displays Elephants as commercial commodities – an outdated and irresponsible message, given the critical environmental threats Elephants face at this time.

Elephants are used for anti-poaching patrols and elephant-back safaris in Sauraha. They are not physically or mentally prepared to participate in this athletically demanding game. As result, Elephants can sustain irreversible injuries that will plague them for the remainder of their lives. Furthermore, it has been indicated that they are haunted with symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) common to human victims of torture and deprivation.

In Hindu culture, the Elephant is regarded as a sacred animal. According to Scripture, the elephant-headed God, Lord Ganesh, is the deity that resolves crises and removes obstacles; Japanese Buddhism regards Lord Ganesh the God of bliss. Given this context, using Elephants as props for human entertainment could be considered sacrilegious.


We respectfully ask that you cancel this year’s Elephant Polo event and discontinue the game in the future. Should you continue to offer Elephant Polo, it could negatively impact tourism and the local community that depends on it. Elephant Polo is a very short-sighted plan to generate profit that should be replaced with an alternative income for Elephant owners through transitioning towards sustainable, Elephant-friendly, observation-only activities in collaboration with responsible travel industry leaders. This model is the only sustainable pathway to providing better care for captive-held Elephants in Nepal, while embracing positive, engaging, and environmentally friendly tourism.

Nepal has been an international leader in many arenas. By prohibiting Elephant polo and committing to their dignity and freedom, Nepal will again provide inspiration for other nations.

We look forward to hearing from you on this urgent issue, in hopeful anticipation of your immediate actions. 



Suparna Baksi-Ganguly President and Co-Founder, Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Center, Bangalore, India

Dr Brett Bard Veterinarian, South Africa

Dr Jessica Bell Rizzolo
 Postdoctoral Researcher, the Conservation Criminology Lab, Dep of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University

Dr Keith Lindsay Conservation Biologist, Amboseli Trust for Elephants, Kenya

Professor David Bilchitz Director, the South African Institute for Advanced Constitutional, Public and Human Rights and International Law

Antoinette Van de Water Director, Bring the Elephant Home, Elephant Specialist
Advisory Group South Africa

Dr Gay Bradshaw Director, Kerulos Center for Nonviolence – USA

Carol Buckley Director, Elephant Aid International

Dr Joyce Poole
 Co-Director, Co-Founder ElephantVoices, Kenya

Dr Betsy Coville Wildlife Veterinarian – USA

Audrey Delsink Wildlife Director, the Humane Society International (Africa), Elephant Ecologist

Catherine Doyle Director of Science Research and Advocacy, Performing Animal Welfare Society USA

Michele Franko Senior Research Associate – Elephant Care & Wellbeing at the Kerulos Center for Nonviolence – USA

Mark Jones Veterinarian, Born Free Foundation United Kingdom 

Dr Marion Garai Chairperson, Elephant Specialist Advisory Group and Trustee Elephant Reintegration Trust

Dr Paula Kahumbu
 WildlifeDirect, Kenya

Dr Ross Harvey
 Economist, Botswana

Dr Michelle Henley
 Director, ElephantsAlive! – Elephant Specialist Advisory Group, South Africa

Alok Hissarwala Gupta
 Elephant Specialist, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations

Iris Ho The Humane Society International

Professor Mohan Kharel
 Tribhuvan University, Kathmandu, Nepal

Dr Winnie Kiiru Founder, Conservation Kenya

Petter Granli Co-Director, Co-Founder, ElephantVoices, Kenya

Giorgio Lombardi Warden Vogelgat Private Nature Reserve, M.S. Rhodes University, South Africa

Brett Mitchell Director, Elephant Reintergration Trust 

Sharon Pincott Elephant Behavioural Specialist, ex-Hwange, Zimbabwe

Dr Yolanda Pretorius
 SA Wildlife College, Elephant Specialist Advisory Group and Elephant Reintegration Trust, South Africa

Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach Head of Wildlife Research and Animal Welfare, World Animal Protection International

Dr DJ Schubert Wildlife Biologist, Animal Welfare Institute – USA

Ed Stewart Director, The Performing Animal Welfare Society

Michele Pickover Director of the Ems Foundation 

Peter Stroud Independent Zoological Consultant – Former Zoo Director, Australia

Prof Dan Wylie Rhodes University, South Africa

This letter is also signed by:

Smaragda Louw Director Ban Animal Trading, South Africa 

Amy P. Wilson Director, Animal Law Reform South Africa

Lenin Chisaira Founder, Advocates 4 Earth – Green Law Connect, Zimbabwe

Johanna Hamburger Wildlife Attorney, Animal Welfare Institute – USA

Jim Karani Advocate, Lawyers for Animal Protection in Africa

Linda Masudze Advocate 4 Earth, Zimbabwe

Mary Morrison Advocate, WildlifeDirect, Kenya

Varda Mehrotra Executive Director, Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations

Megan Carr Vice-President, Global March for Elephants and Rhinos

Nomusa Dube Founder, Zimbabwe Elephant Foundation

Penny Banham Conservation Project Officer, Born Free Foundation UK 

Stefania Falcon Co-Founder, Future 4 Wildlife, South Africa

Chief Stephen Fritz Traditional Leader, Members of the South Peninsula Customary Khoisan Council South Africa

Rachel Harris Managing Director, Elephant Human Relationship Aid, Namibia 

Lynne James Committee Member, Mutare SPCA, Zimbabwe

Kahindi Lekalhaile Africa Network for Animal Welfare, Kenya

Image: Elephant Polo in Nepal – Signature Holidays

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