Learn elephant foot trimming best practices from EAI founder and CEO Carol Buckley and help create positive change for captive-held elephants in Nepal.
Elephant Aid International will conduct two foot trimming workshops in Nepal in 2019:
- November 11-15, 2019: Tiger Tops Elephant Camp, Amaltari
- November 18-22, 2019: Sauraha
Although both locations border on Chitwan National Park, they could not be more different:
Tiger Tops is located in a sleepy village with lots of peace and quiet and elephants who live in solar powered chain-free corrals that were designed by Elephant Aid International.
Sauraha is quite the opposite, a bustling tourist destination with hundreds of hotels, restaurants, shops, nightlife, tourists, venders and elephants all mixed together. This is one place where you will get a true picture of elephant exploitation and suffering. Sauraha is difficult to experience but important to see if you want to know the lives of most elephants in Nepal.
EAI supporters often ask what they can do to help. You can make an important contribution by sponsoring a mahout to attend the workshop. For only $50, you will cover a mahout’s transportation, housing, food and a small stipend.
Be prepared to work hard and participate in one of the most rewarding experiences of your life! Workshop participants will learn to inspect, evaluate and trim elephants’ feet through instruction and hands-on experience. You will also participate in elephant food collection and preparation and observe veterinary procedures and health inspections.
Learn more about Elephant Foot Care. Learn more about EAI’s Foot Trimming Program in Nepal.
Interested in participating? See below for full information about the workshops. We recommend starting with the Before Applying section and moving on from there.
What level of fitness is required to take part in this workshop?
This workshop requires a medium to high level of fitness and stamina. Foot trimming is physically demanding, requiring that you stoop, squat, kneel on the ground and lean over at the waist while learning to trim. Additionally, the oppressive heat is taxing and can lead to dehydration so be prepared for challenging physical conditions.
Do I need any special skills or qualifications to take part in this workshop?
No special skills are required for this workshop. But due to limited space, professionals in the fields of elephant care and welfare will be given first consideration.
Sorry, this program is not suitable for children (under 18) even when accompanied by an adult.
Will I be allowed to pet, bathe or ride elephants?
To avoid exploiting the elephants for personal gratification, the only physical contact EAI’s workshops in Asia allow is that required for trimming feet. Otherwise there will be no physical contact between workshop participants and the elephants.
The elephants whose feet we will trim have lived their lives dominated by humans. Many are repeat clients of our foot trimming services. The mahouts respect our requirement to refrain from striking their elephant while in our presence. As a result, the elephants are able to relax, knowing they will not be hit during the trimming process.
Unfortunately we cannot change culture overnight nor control how mahouts handle their elephants outside our workshop. You will undoubtedly see elephants being struck during your stay in Nepal. A gentle and understandable response to witnessing the abuse is to respectfully request, "Hatti la no pita" (Please do not hit the elephant). Most mahouts respond kindly to our respectful request.
We ask our workshop participants to refrain from any physical contact with elephants -- even during non-work hours -- for the duration of the program. In this way, our participants will model appropriate behavior to help bring about the change we envision for Asia’s working elephants.
You will, however be encouraged to assist the mahouts with their evening chores, including accompanying the elephants to cut and collect their daily rations of wild grass, cleaning the corrals and making kuchi (dietary supplements rolled up in elephant grass).
What mindset do I need to make the most of this workshop?
Working in a third world country often brings unplanned challenges and surprises. While it is our absolute goal to complete the work and provide you with the experience described here, we cannot control all the variables that could have an impact on this workshop, including weather, politics, banda (political strikes) that shut down all activities and delays in transport and elephant availability, among others.
You will be well prepared if you arrive expecting challenging physical, cultural, intellectual and emotional conditions. You can expect high temperatures and uncomfortable travels on rough roads. The realities of life for captive elephants in Nepal can be upsetting and unsettling but it is not our role to criticize what we see. Cultural attitudes, such as toward time and being "on time," can also be frustrating.
Being flexible, open-minded and non-judgmental will go a long way to making this an educational and memorable experience.
What does the workshop fee ($2,000) include?
- Instructions and foot trimming demonstrations
- Hands-on tutoring
- Personal set of trimming tools including gloves
- EAI t-shirt
- English speaking workshop leader
- Certificate of participation upon completion
What’s not included?
- A $50 processing charge for all workshop fees paid via wire transfer (wire transfer payments are required for all non-US participants)
- A $60 processing charge for workshop fees paid via credit card or PayPal (EAI encourages US participants to pay via check to avoid processing fees.)
- All flights, ground transportation and visas
- Travel Insurance – Medical evacuation & repatriation insurance (see details)
- Room and board
- Alcoholic beverages, bottled water and snacks
- Activities outside the scheduled workshop
- Mahout sponsorship
What is the workshop fee for?
The fee helps support EAI’s Elephant Foot Care and Mahout & Elephant Training programs.
These year-round, long-running programs provide free foot trimming and mahout training and internships for a select number of mahouts and in-country veterinary students.
The students go on to study and work on elephant welfare in different capacities:
- One of our interns, who graduated in veterinary medicine and did his thesis on the foot health of captive elephants in Nepal, was recently hired by the country’s Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation.
- Another intern did her thesis on the effect EAI’s Chain Free Means Pain Free program has had on the tourist sector in Nepal. She was immediately hired as project manager for the first organization to retire a privately owned elephant in Sauraha.
The fee also covers the costs of running the workshops, including trimming tools and t-shirts for all participants; in-country translators; group transport from housing to work site; etc.
What does the Mahout Sponsorship include? ($50 per day)
We ask each participant to sponsor a mahout for a minimum of 1 day. That mahout will be your workshop partner for the days you sponsor him/her, sharing information about his/her work and life, while you both develop your foot trimming skills and friendship.
A sponsored mahout will receive:
- Foot trimming tools
- A daily stipend
- Certificate of participation
What is a typical day for a participant?
The number of elephants we are able to service each day depends on the condition of each elephant’s feet. A severely overgrown and cracked pad and nail can take up to an hour for one person to trim properly. Since the elephants lie on their sides for trimming, several people can be working on more than one foot at a time, thereby reducing the time it takes to trim all four feet.
At Tiger Tops, our goal is to examine and trim the feet of 4 elephants per day, participate in elephant food collection and preparation and observe veterinary procedures and health inspections. At sunset we accompany the elephants to the Narayani River to watch them refresh themselves in the swiftly moving water. The days are full and well organized, in a relaxed atmosphere.
In Sauraha, there are two separate groups of elephants: government owned and privately owned.
Government owned elephants
The government owned elephants provide anti-poaching patrol activities in Chitwan National Park. Due to their demanding schedule, their mahouts prefer that we trim as early as 7AM before they leave on patrol, or around 4PM when they return from patrol.
Privately owned elephants
Conditions for privately owned elephants are harsh. Poor husbandry, overwork and inadequate unhealthy food all contribute to a wider range of foot and nail problems than you'll see at Tiger Tops.
As result, it is a great training ground but can be very upsetting. Be prepared to see more elephant suffering than you could ever imagine. But know that by providing foot trimming, we make their lives a little more bearable.
In Sauraha, we often have the opportunity to trim the feet of more than 4 elephants a day as we move from hattisar (elephant stable) to hattisar and throughout the ride area. The privately owned elephants in Sauraha keep a grueling schedule and the workshop revolves around the mahout/elephant schedule.
Elephants used for rides begin their day at the ride area at the break of dawn and do not return to their home stable until late into the evening. The mahouts prefer that we trim at the ride area during their break. This allows us to trim many elephants in one day. (Note: It has taken years of relationship building to ensure that private owners allow us to trim feet. EAI does not endorse using elephants for rides but we refrain from openly criticizing the owners in order to benefit the elephants. We are thankful for the opportunity to provide this much needed service for the privately owned elephants. Our foot trims provide them immediate relief.)
Where should I stay during the workshops?
Lodging is not included in the price of the workshop. You must reserve your lodging directly with Tiger Tops or one of the recommended hotels in Sauraha, depending on which workshop you sign up for.
Tiger Tops (November 11-15)
If you register for the Tiger Tops workshop, you have two choices of places to stay.
Tiger Tops Elephant Camp has 6 comfortable and fully equipped safari tents with attached bathrooms. The tents are surrounded on three sides by solar powered chain-free corrals, so you will be immersed in the daily routine of Tiger Tops herd of elephants.
Cost: US$ 85+ taxes per person per night. This is a 30% discount on the regular rate, and includes shared accommodations, all meals and all elephant observation activities. Please refer to the Elephant Aid International Foot Trimming Workshop to ensure you receive the workshop discount.
For a bit more luxury you can stay at Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge, which is adjacent to the camp and offers 12 fully equipped rooms.
Cost: US$ 120+ taxes per person per night. This is a 30% discount on the regular rate and includes shared accommodations, all meals and all elephant observation activities. Please refer to the Elephant Aid International Foot Trimming Workshop to ensure you receive the workshop discount.
Additional costs you are responsible for:
- Airport transfers (or transfer from Sauraha)
- Any safari activities
- National Park entrance fees
- Any purchases of a personal nature such as bar bills, laundry, tips, etc.
Note: You can pre-arrange transport from the Bharatpur Airport when you book your reservation at Tiger Tops.
Sauraha Foot Trimming Workshop (November 18-22)
Sauraha has many and varied hotel options. Our only request is that you stay in an establishment that does not use elephants for rides. This reduces your choices, but we make this request for ethical reasons. And don't let a low budget accommodation scare you off. Some of the nicest hotels are in this range.
Although there are many more to pick from, we can recommend 3 guest hotels that meet our criteria:
Royal Park Hotel
Cost: US$ 30+ per person per night
Tharu style, where you feel like you are sleeping in the forest - calm, a huge park with flowers and trees. Guests should book their room in the main buildings, which have big rooms, big bathrooms and peaceful views from their balconies. We do not recommend the private bungalows due to an issue with mildew.
Chitwan Boutique Hotel
Cost: US$20+ per person per night
Newer hotel with comfortable beds. Well staffed and good food.
Hotel Rhino Land
Cost: US$7+ per person per night
Best low budget accommodations. Book online. The owner responds personally to guests.
What is appropriate clothing for the workshop and leisure time?
Nepalese dress modestly. We do not want to insult their culture or bring unwanted attention to our workshop, so please refrain from wearing shorts, tank tops and low-cut or cropped shirts (both men and women), as they are culturally inappropriate.
Please wear full-length pants (not leggings or yoga pants) to protect your legs from biting insects and jungle vegetation, a work shirt or t-shirt and closed-toe shoes, sneakers or boots (no flip-flops, please).
On your own time you may wear what you wish, but out of respect for the local culture we recommended ¾- or full-length pants (both men and women) and, for women, skirts that cover the knee. Sleeveless shirts and blouses are fine; low-cut revealing blouses are not.
In November and December, days can be hot and nights can be cold. You should pack clothes for both conditions, including a warm sweatshirt or jacket, socks and a cap or hat.
Will workshop participants be taking jobs away from mahouts?
Definitely not. We ask you to sponsor a mahout so he/she (yes, there are two female mahouts in Sauraha) can increase his/her skillset, which will elevate his/her standing in the community and, most important, improve the welfare of the elephants he/she cares for. You will work side-by-side with the mahouts, gaining an understanding of their circumstances and culture, and, no doubt, forming lifelong friendships.
What essentials should I bring with me?
- Passport, travel insurance and travel documents
- Health insurance documents
- Copies of all travel documents (just in case)
- Extra passport photos for your visa application
- Cash and an ATM card (for Sauraha)
- Pen and paper
- Small backpack for daily use
- A pair of sturdy closed-toe shoes (no open toes shoes during trimming)
- Long pants
- Lightweight t-shirts
- Sweatshirt or jacket
- Refillable water bottle(s) (a SteriPen will assure the safety of your drinking water)
- Packable umbrella
- Ear plugs
- Toiletries (although these can be purchased in Sauraha)
- Basic medical kit with pain reliever, cold medication, bandaids, insect repellent, etc.
- Prescription medications including anti-diarrheal medicine (there is a well-stocked, well-staffed pharmacy in Sauraha that can assist with any non-life threatening condition)
- Personal dietary supplements
- Camera, charger and adapter
- Voltage converter or transformer and/or adaptor plugs (your specific needs will depend on where you live and what appliances you choose to bring to Nepal)
- Spending money in Euros or US dollars (for snacks, beverages, shopping, tourism, Kathmandu hotel, taxi to/from airport, etc.). We recommend you bring at least $250 USD in cash. Bills should be new, clean and crisp. Vendors do not accept soiled, creased or torn bills.
What vaccinations will I need to travel to Nepal?
Required vaccinations depend entirely on your personal medical history. Therefore, it is essential that you consult your doctor before your departure regarding what vaccinations you should receive. We also highly recommend that you check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (US), Fit For Travel’s (UK) and other countries’ websites in conjunction with visiting your doctor.
There are 2 diseases in particular you should be aware of:
Tuberculosis: At least 35 percent of all captive-held elephants in Sauraha suffer from the human strain of tuberculosis (TB). We advise you to have a TB test before joining the program and again upon your return home.
Rabies: Stray dogs in Sauraha and surrounding villages have been known to carry rabies. Dogs in Nepal are very friendly and approach English-speaking people as they are conditioned that English-speaking people will pet them. If you are a dog lover and know you will be tempted to pet a stray dog, please consult your physician about getting rabies shots prior to making the trip. Otherwise, never let a stray dog lick or touch you.
What type of travel insurance do I need?
We require you to secure your own medical emergency expense and evacuation and repatriation insurance. Learn more and compare plans.
EAI recommends at least $100,000 of coverage and requires proof of emergency medical expense, evacuation and repatriation insurance prior to your departure.
Do I need a visa?
All foreigners, except Indians, must have a visa. Nepali embassies and consulates overseas issue visas with no fuss.
Conveniently, you can also get one on the spot when you arrive at Nepal's Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. All tourist visas are multiple entry as standard.
A Nepali visa is valid for entry for three to six months from the date of issue. Your passport must have at least six months of validity. Citizens of South Asian countries and China need visas, but these are free.
You can download a visa application form from the websites of the Nepali embassy in Washington, DC (www.nepalembassyusa.org), London (uk.nepalembassy.gov.np) or Canberra (au.nepalembassy.gov.np).
To obtain a visa when you arrive by air in Nepal, you must ﬁll in an application form and provide a passport photograph. Visa application forms are available on a table in the arrivals hall, though some airlines, such as Thai and Qatar, provide the form on the ﬂight. The process can take up to an hour, depending on the how many flights arrive around the same time.
To get a jump on the immigration queue, you can download the visa-on-arrival form from http://nepaltraveladvisory.blogspot.com/2012/02/visa-on-arrival.html. A multiple entry visa valid for 15/30/90 days costs US$25/$40/$100.
At Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan Airport you may pay the fee in any major currency. At land borders, however, officials require payment in cash US dollars. Be sure to bring small bills.
How do I get to Tiger Tops?
You will need to book an international flight from your country of origin to Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. Plan to spend at least one night in a hotel in Kathmandu ($25-$50 USD or less).
Then you will need to book a flight from Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu to the Bharatpur Airport. The flight takes only 15 minutes. You may book the flight in advance online on either Buddha Air or Yeti Air. Be sure to book your return flight as well. The cost is about $100 one-way.
You can also have your flights booked by your hotel concierge when you are in Kathmandu but we strongly recommend that you book them online in advance to guarantee you a seat).
Tiger Tops will arrange your transport from the Bharatpur Airport when you book your stay with them.
How do I get to Sauraha?
You will need to book an international flight from your country of origin to Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu. Plan to spend at least one night in a hotel in Kathmandu ($25-$50 USD or less).
From Kathmandu, there are two ways to get to Sauraha:
Tourist bus: A bus company called Sauraha Holiday Travel offers daily bus service from Kathmandu to Sauraha/Chitwan, leaving at 7:00 am and arriving at 1:00 pm. The cost is $7.
Learn more here or connect on Facebook here.
By air: You can also fly from Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu to the Bharatpur Airport. The flight takes only 15 minutes. You may book the flight in advance online on either Buddha Air or Yeti Air. Be sure to book your return flight as well. The cost is about $100 one-way.
You can also have your flights booked by your hotel concierge when you are in Kathmandu but we strongly recommend that you book them online in advance to guarantee you have a seat.
When you arrive at the Bharatpur Airport, you will take a 30-minute taxi ride to your guest house/hotel in Sauraha. The taxi ride will cost approximately Rs 10,000 ($12USD).
Environment & Health
What makes Chitwan National Park so special?
The word Chitwan means “Heart of the Jungle.” Within walking distance of Tiger Tops Lodge and the guest houses in Sauraha Village, Chitwan National Park is a World Heritage Site, famous as one of the best wildlife-viewing national parks in Asia. It was recently ranked #19 on the Huffington Post's list of ‘The 35 Most Amazing National Parks on Earth.’
This will be the setting for much of your workshop.During your time in the park and the encompassing community managed Buffer Zone forests, you’ll have an excellent chance of spotting one-horned rhinos, deer, monkeys and some of the 450 species of birds. If you’re extremely lucky, you may see leopards, wild elephants, sloth bears and the majestic Bengal tiger.
According to many travel experts, the best time to visit Chitwan National Park to see wildlife is from October to March.
What are the risks of working in and around the jungle?
Your safety is important to us and we will take special precautions to minimize your risk of injury from work-related encounters with wildlife.
But you are ultimately responsible for your own welfare. During the program you will need to make wise choices to ensure your personal health and safety, avoiding situations that put you at risk and taking precautions to protect yourself against dehydration, exhaustion and bodily injury, among other dangers. You should also take precautions to protect yourself from the biting and stinging insects, including mosquitos, that are a part of life in the jungle.
Please consider your level of comfort in working in such a setting before choosing this program.
What can I expect for typical weather conditions?
In November daytime temperatures average 78 degrees Farenheit (25 degrees Celsius). Nighttime temperatures often dip into the 40s (Farenheit).
Read more about local weather in the Chitwan area.
What is the risk of contracting malaria in the Chitwan area?
We strongly encourage you to talk with your doctor about your options. Anti-malarial medicines can endanger your health and many visitors to the Chitwan area, including EAI’s Carol Buckley, do not take them. Only you can decide whether to take the medicines or not, in consultation with your doctor.
What is the work site like?
The workshop will be held at several different locations, including Tiger Tops resort and government hattisars (elephant stables) in Sauraha; Kasara, the government breeding center in Khorsor; and the tourist ride area outside Sauraha. In total there are nearly 200 elephants in and around Chitwan National Park. We will trim the feed of as many of these elephants as time permits.
The hattisars are primitive and can be dusty and smoky from the constant burning of elephant dung and hay. There are few Western-style restrooms here. Instead, you will use a traditional, rural outhouse, which consists of a hole in the ground (squat toilet) and a bucket of fresh water (to use in lieu of toilet paper).
Here, you will see how captive elephants of Nepal typically live, most of them shackled in chains, unable to move freely. And you’ll see how the mahouts (elephant keepers), who have enthusiastically embraced EAI’s elephant welfare initiative, live and work as well.
The setting is truly beautiful and the sight of such majestic elephants, including tiny babies, is breathtaking. But the reality of such a difficult life for elephants and humans can be disturbing.
You will feel the importance, urgency and rewards of your participation every day.
How to Apply
Fill out the application form on our website. You should receive an email confirming your application. If you do not, please write Suzanne at [email protected].
If you are accepted, you will receive a confirmation letter within 5 business days. You will then need to pay the full workshop fee (by check, credit card, PayPal or wire transfer) to reserve your spot in the workshop. Because EAI must make financial and logistical commitments to its workshop partners in Nepal well in advance, we are unable to issue any refunds.