Tourists riding on elephants. The National Parks of Chitwan and Kaziranga can be visited by anyone willing to sit atop the king of the jungle, emulating Hannibal himself. Since at least 2,000 B.C, elephants have been tamed and trained by man for construction, transport and war.
Now, 4,000 years later, there is still no more comfortable, safe, and cheap means of transport on which to explore the jungles of the unicorn.
Up here, the visitors are safe from tigers, and have a superb view of their surroundings. And, thanks to this new eco-tourism, the ancient tradition of the mahouts, the carers and drivers of these pachyderms, is being preserved precisely at the time when traditional uses are in decline.
These men and their animals form close, life-long bonds, from the time the elephant is very young. In this way, travelling around on the back of an elephant has become a new source of income for the local population, and this benefits not only the rhinoceros and the tiger, but the elephant itself, along with the ancient tradition of training them.
They are not noisy, do not contaminate, and when they stop working, they can be recycled. And, what is more important, the other inhabitants of the jungle are used to their presence, and so they do not frighten or disturb them.
Precisely because of these advantages, men in the past used them to hunt down the rhinos. But, as in many parts of the world, the Indians and Nepalese have realised that a live rhinoceros brings much more income than a dead one. A good trophy satisfies just a single hunter, while a live specimen can attract hundreds of amateur photographers.
Thanks to the elephant we have been able to enter the world of the unicorn, a world whose nightmares have not changed much despite the passing of time.
In Bangkok, a kilo of Indian rhinoceros horn costs over three million pesetas. And, in a region where poverty is rife, the temptation to poach is enormous. The magic horn which made it a legend almost led to it join the dinosaurs, the dodo and the mammoth in the book of extinct species.
But these people are saving them. New generations of visitors who come here not to kill, but simply as a break from routine. Curious travellers willing to pay to catch a glimpse of a legend. 26 years ago, Chitwan received fewer than 1,000 visitors. Today, over 100,000 come every year. 50% of the income generated by the park is used for the development of the human settlements around it, and people are encouraged to actively participate in conservation, training as wardens, guides, maintenance and catering staff.
The charges for entering and camping in the park, the price of elephant tours, and lodging and permits, generate increasing income, making the local people more and more convinced that they are fortunate in having a national park on their doorstep.