The Pro Elephant Network (PREN) consists of a significant international community of diverse individuals and organizations involved with wild and captive African and Asian Elephants and comprising specific expertise, including, but not limited to, the fields of science, health, conservation, welfare and well-being, economics, community leadership, indigenous knowledge, social justice and the law.

Members of PREN have been informed that during a recent meeting between the Prime Minister of Nepal, Mr Pusha Kamal Dahal, and the Qatar Emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, the Prime Minister of Nepal offered two juvenile Asian elephants to Qatar as a gift.

According to information provided by Manipuran Chaudhary, Chief of the Breeding and Training Centre at Sorsor in Sauraha, these elephants are a five year old male elephant known as Khagendra Prasad and a six year old female known as Rudrakali. Both juvenile elephants were born and trained at the centre, they are the offspring of a wild elephant, known as Ronaldo, who regularly meets with the herd at the centre.

An article published in the National Newspaper “Rising Nepal”, confirms that Rudrakali and Khagendra Prasad were offered to the Qatar Government as gifts under the Nepalese “Conservation Policy”.

Badri Raj Dhungana, spokesperson at the Ministry of Forestry, has confirmed that the proposal to gift two elephants by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has yet to be formally confirmed by the Nepalese Cabinet. “Elephants fall under the category of Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), no side can give and accept elephants without prior approval from CITES headquarters in Geneva. We have already obtained permission, but as far as I know, the Qatari side was waiting for Geneva’s approval. As soon as the permission is obtained, we will present the elephants to the Emir,” said Dhungana.

The mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan, Mayor Mr Balen Shah has strongly criticised the proposed elephant gift and has questioned the legality and morality of “transporting wild animals to environments like deserts”.

Qatar is not a natural range state for either African or Asian elephants. The humid subtropical monsoon influenced climate of Chitwan National Park, where these elephants were raised, is characterised by high humidity all through the year and yearly precipitation fall of 2,500 mm. In winter temperatures of 5°C to 18°C are the norm.

The two young elephants grew up having access to the rich vegetation of the Himalayan subtropical broadleaf forests which include Sal trees, Chir pine, Beleric, Rosewood, Axlewood, Elephant apple, Grey downy balsam and creepers such as Bauhinia vahlii and Spatholobus parviflorus.

The Elephants will be exported to a desert climate and to an alien arid environment where their future is uncertain. Elephants in captivity rely on knowledgeable carers who are experienced with regard to their complex needs. Moreover, the elephants who live at the Breeding and Training Centre at Sorsor in Sauraha have daily access to indigenous habitats and communities of wild elephants.

In addition, PREN members who are guided by elephant well-being and welfare experts, academics, scientists, and conservationists are particularly concerned about this transaction because these young and vulnerable Asian elephants will be prematurely separated from their mothers and families.

Elephants are large-brained mammals who display complex cognitive capabilities, and sentience, and demonstrate social needs and empathy, but most importantly, determination.

The Asian Elephant is able to use tools and, together with only a few other non-human species, such as some great apes, dolphins, rays and the Eurasian magpie, passed the mirror test, proving self-recognition abilities and a sense of self-awareness.

When grown males inevitably come into their annual musth cycle, their testosterone levels rise steeply making them more aggressive; all attempts to manage captive males during this process through isolation, separation and confinement, will impact their welfare.

All Elephants require access to expansive, diverse habitats and move across long distances. They also need to be provided with opportunities for individual autonomy and socialization. These essential needs typically cannot be met in captive environments, leading to health deterioration and stereotypic behaviours reflecting the welfare-compromised environment. Stereotypic behaviour, the invariant restrictive and purposeless repetition of motor patterns, remains the most widely used welfare indicator for captive Elephants in poor welfare conditions exposed to psychological stress and has direct physiological consequences on the body’s ability to function.

In terms of the social aspect, elephants are highly social mammals and live in particularly large social networks with a highly organised structure involving strong family bonds that last a lifetime; these complex connections include vital relationships within family members, bond groups, coalitions, and clans and are extremely difficult if not impossible to replicate in captivity.

The members of PREN who signed the enclosed letter strongly recommend the urgent review of the gifting of these or other Elephants with a view to prioritising the welfare of the animals and urge the Cabinet to permanently reject this plan.

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