Beauty contest of elephants highlights the annual festival in Nepal

Chitwan [Nepal], Dec. 31 (ANI): A Beauty contests and polo races were the highlight of a five-day annual elephant festival that started on Tuesday in Chitwan, Nepal.
Guided by their mahouts, the elephants kicked around a ball and scored goals.
"They are playing here and there, sometimes even chasing each other, sometimes the ball goes out of boundaries…they have done extremely well," one spectator said.
"About 100 elephants took part in the 13th Chitwan Elephant Festival," the organisers said.
Mahouts around the world have come under fire from animal rights groups for what they say is the mistreatment of their elephants. Mahouts have defended their training methods and said the instruments they use to control the elephants do not hurt them.
One part of the festival involves parading the elephants painted colourfully. The animals are judged not only for their decorations, but also for the quality of their skin.
"The objective of the beauty contest for the elephants is to create a friendly atmosphere between the elephant and the mahout, apart from the displaying decorations on the elephants," one of the judges, Miran Rijal, said.
Chitwan is one of the most popular destinations in the Himalayan country. Located about 170 km (105 miles) from Kathmandu, the place is popular for its wildlife and elephant safaris.
Due to a devastating earthquake in 2015 and a four-month blockade along a major trading point with India that was lifted in February this year, tourism numbers have dwindled.
"Mainly, after the earthquake and the blockade from India, the tourism in Nepal has gone down so badly. So, we are in the phase of increasing the number of tourism arrivals in Nepal," said the elephant festival's media coordinator, Keshav Pandey.
Though the region used to welcome nearly 200,000 tourists in a single year, the number has dropped to less than half after the disaster of 2015. This year, the festival has introduced elephant polo for the first time in its history, which is expected to draw huge number of foreign and domestic tourists.
The tourism industry is one of Nepal's biggest earners, bringing in millions of dollars for the impoverished country. (ANI)

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