The art of capturing wild elephants


The art of capturing wild elephants is one of the ancient culture of Tai-Khamtis in North East India and in Myanmar. They are well known for their skills in capturing wild elephants for war purpose in the past and for commercial reason in the present. Ploughing with elephants is also an unique traditional method that makes Tai-Khamti a distinct tribe from all other tribes in North East India and in Myanmar.

There are four traditional methods in capturing wild elephants:
1. Kyone Method
2. Kyaw Phan Method
3. Decoy Method
4. Immobilization Method.


Due to their peculiar environment condition the Tai-Khamtis favour the second method, Kyaw Phan method. The method involves
lassoing a wild elephant from the back of a trained one, called a koonki.This practice is
prevalent in the Assam and the Arunachal Pradesh states of India (especially khamti tribe), and is one of the methods seen in ancient India.

Kyaw Phan requires the services of a skilled mahout or phandi . This person is able to
lasso a wild elephant whilst mounted on another. The phandi , who is well regarded for his abilities, is accompanied by another mahout assistant. Phandis feature in the folklore of northeastern India. Since 1977, this and all other methods of capturing elephants are illegal, but prior to the 1977 legislation,
mela shikar was used to lasso an estimated 300 to 400 elephants per year in Assam alone.

PRESENT SITUATION: Chongkham is dominated by the Khamti tribal community whose association with the elephants is legendary and dates back to hundreds of years. The Khamtis are famous for their traditional skill of capturing wild Elephants and imparting training to tame the wild pachyderm. The tamed Elephants were earlier used to extract timber from the forest and also for ploughing in the farm fields, even for plucking tealeaves!

Chongkham was once considered as Asia’s richest village due to the revenue generated by timber harvesting and other timber-related activities. Unfortunately, the Khamtis and their beautiful elephants are almost out of job now due to the ban on timber felling. While accepting the fact that the ban on timber felling is necessary to conserve our forests and bio-diversity, the importance of conservation and respectful rehabilitation of the tamed elephants and their masters cannot be undermined.