Nepal's first female mahout leads elephant safaris
Nepal's first female mahout, one of only a handful of women across Asia to be selected to drive elephants, spoke Tuesday of her pride at breaking into the all-male profession.
Meena Chaudhary, 33, was selected for the highly-specialised role after being picked from a female-only shortlist of 15 candidates as part of a government scheme to get more women working in the public sector.
"Women are flying aircraft. So, driving an elephant is peanuts," she said. "I wanted to prove that we're equal to men. I showed it by being an elephant driver."
Mahouts take tourists on elephant-back safaris in southern Nepal's Chitwan national park, home to the endangered royal Bengal tiger, the rare one-horned rhino and other exotic animals and birds.
The job has traditionally been a men-only preserve because women are often considered weak in the conservative, Hindu-majority Himalayan nation.
Chaudhary, who has led up to half a dozen drives a day since taking on the role two months ago, said she was proud to be breaking that stereotype.
"We were trained for three days on how to treat elephants and how to drive them towards the jungle," she told AFP.
"We were also asked to climb trees and swim," she said, adding that another woman had now been selected to join her.
But she told AFP she was full of anxiety on her first day in the job.
"I was not used to dealing with so many people. I was also afraid that something might go wrong. But everything was all right," said Chaudhary, who receives a monthly pay of 10,000 rupees ($120).
Mahouts are often introduced to their elephants as children and stay with one animal for decades. They drive their mounts using oral commands and pressure from their feet on the elephant's ears.
There are around 100 mahouts in Nepal, with a handful paid by the government and the rest employed by the hotel industry in Chitwan.
Every year thousands of people visit the park, a haven for wildlife and one of Nepal's biggest tourist attractions.
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