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Should elephant play be called extortion trade?
A mahout directs his elephant to stop a vehicle to ask for money on a Dhaka street. Photo. Collected

Should elephant play be called extortion trade?

Dhaka, Jan 29 (Xinhua/UNB) — Elephants, sometimes adorned with jewels and gaudy, decorative garments, are not an uncommon sight on the streets in many parts of Asia.
They can be seen ridden by their mahouts (riders or keepers) in public places where they artfully commandeer cash from passersby or unsuspecting tourists sipping a brew outside a cafe.
Bangladesh’s capital city of Dhaka is one such place where these magnificent beasts and their seemingly keen nose for cash, operate on the bustling streets.
In recent years, however, these elephants, or more specifically the way they have been trained, have become a growing menace in the capital city of some 16 million people.
This is because they are not just being used to collect money and entertain people with their playful antics, as was the case in the past.
In Dhaka, mahouts mostly use the land’s largest animal for collecting money from the owners of shops and vehicles. The practice has come to be known as a form of “extortion” and such elephants have been dubbed as the “extortionists.”
The mahouts here use a simple method to force people to pay money to the tusked beasts with their probing, tactile trunks.
They simply make the elephant stop in front of a shop or a vehicle.
Unless the shop owner or the vehicle owner parts with some money, the elephant refuses to move. Surprisingly, it also refuses to accept some banknotes unless they are of the requisite denomination.
Mahouts can be found riding their elephants in the middle of busy roads to collect money.
Hasan is one such mahouts who collect money from the streets of Dhaka with his elephant “Motilal.”
He learned the technique from his father who was also a mahout. “My elder brother is also an elephant handler. This trade runs in the family,” Hasan said.
“I have also joined the family trade and this is the first elephant with whom I am doing this job,” he said.
“My elder brother is the owner of this elephant. Since my elder brother is the owner of the elephant I get money from him,” Hasan explained, adding that from his brother’s wages he receives 50 percent.
Hasan takes care of the elephants’ well being. For example, he will collect bananas from trees along the roadside to feed the elephants that seem unwell, said Hasan.
Mohammad Shamsul Azam, deputy chief conservator of forests, said that a license is necessary for an individual, organization, or a circus team to rear an elephant in Bangladesh.
“With the issuance of a license we also impose some conditions,” explained Azam. “One of the key conditions is to keep an elephant healthy and in a safe place with facilities available to provide treatment.”
Recently, he said “We observed that elephants are roaming on the streets of Dhaka randomly.”
“I doubt whether these elephants are treated properly and kept in a hygienic environment with facilities for bathing and drinking at least,” said Azam.
“This menace should be stopped. We need to be more careful during the issuance or reinsurance of a license,” the deputy chief conservator said.
“If a keeper has not made the necessary arrangements for keeping an elephant, we should better seize the elephant and release it in the jungle,” said Azam, who works as the project director at the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Safari Park in Gazipur, on the outskirts of Dhaka.
Anisuzzaman Khan, a wildlife expert, for his part, said “We often see elephants roaming the city streets for money. This is particularly dangerous. And, sometimes, the elephants are not healthy.”
He said unauthorized elephants used to collect money can be treated and moved to the Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Safari Park and other places, like Cox’s Bazar, Rangamati, Bandarban and Sylhet, or elsewhere in the country.
“We have to keep a close watch on these elephants used for collecting money and encourage legal measures to ensure the safety of both the elephants, their riders and, of course, the public,” proffered Khan.- GW News Desk with UNB