Number of domesticated elephants

Past estimates of domesticated elephants are available
mostly for war elephants. The army of Chandra Gupta
Maurya (third century B.C.) had 9 000 elephants; other
rulers in the Indian sub-continent at that time had at least
another 5 000 elephants between them. The great Moghul
Emperor Akbar (1556-1605 A.D.) had 32 000 elephants in
his stables. His son Jehangir (1605-1627 A.D.), a great
connoisseur of elephants, was stated to have 113 000
elephants in captivity: 12 000 in active army service, 1 000
to supply fodder to these animals, and another 100 000
elephants to carry courtiers, officials, attendants and
baggage (Lahiri Choudhury, 1988).

Jardin put the number of elephants in captivity in 1836 at
40 000 (Anon, 1993). Some idea of the number of
domesticated elephants can be had from the data on
elephant captures. Sukumar (1994) estimates that during
the period 1868 to 1980, 30 000-50 000 elephants might
have been captured throughout the Indian subcontinent,
largely in the northeast. As many as 5 564 elephants were
captured in northeast India during 1961-79 (Lahiri
Choudhury, 1984).

No formal census of captive elephants has ever been
attempted in India. Although a livestock census has been
conducted in various states in India in different years,
either elephants were not covered or the information about
them has not been analysed and tabulated properly. Some
experts have, however, attempted to estimate the number
of captive elephants in India. Jackson (1985) estimated the
number as 2 910-3 110 including 750 for northern India,
700 for southern India and 1 460-1 660 for northeastern
India. Santiapillai and Jackson (1990) cited a population
figure of 2 260-2 760 including 500-750 for northern India,
300-350 for southern India and 1 460-1 660 for
northeastern India. Lair (1997) suggests that these figures
are under-estimates and the number of domesticated
elephants in India should be not less than 4 000.

A quick but fairly exhaustive survey of the status of captive
elephants was done by Project Elephant during November
and December, 2000. The help of knowledgeable elephant
owners, NGOs, the Central Zoo Authority, the Circus
Federation of India, State Forest Departments and other
experts was sought for this purpose. Field visits were made
to some major elephant centres in the northeast. This
survey yielded a minimum figure of 3 400 captive
elephants in India. However, information about circuses as
well as mendicants in northern India does not appear to be
complete. A few elephants in the south and northeast also
appear to have been missed. Hence, the present number
of captive elephants in India can be put at 3 400-3 600
including 271-300 for northern India, 209-240 for eastern
India, 79-92 for western India, 860-920 for southern India,
1 903-1 970 for northeastern India and 78 for the
Andaman and Nicobar Islands. This estimate compares
fairly well with the earlier estimates. The apparent increase
in the northeastern region is because of improved
record-keeping and intensive survey. The decrease in the
northern and eastern regions is a result of the transfer of
elephants to the south where the demand for elephants is
still high.


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