After providing some background on the domestication and use of elephants in ancient India, this article concentrates on the role of the elephant in Indian statescraft as outlined in Kautilya’s Arthasastra, reputed to have been written in the fourth century BC (over 2300 years ago). The body of this essay is presented as follows: first background on the nature of Kautilya’s Arthasastra is provided and then his advice is outlined and discussed about the care of elephants. This care involves the duty of the King, the duties of the superintendent of elephants and the law relating to the treatment of elephants. Subsequently, Kautilya’s views about the use of elephants in war are considered. The essay concludes with an overall assessment of the role of the elephant in the polity of ancient India as portrayed by Kautilya. It is argued that the high use value of elephants to ancient Indian rulers, especially in war, had a significant positive impact on the conservation of Asian wild elephants, and incidentally other wildlife in India as well. Today, the conservation of the Asian elephant depends mostly on its use for tourism and its non-use economic values which reflect human empathy with it and which are reinforced in India by social and cultural values.


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