Andrew’s blog: Day 3

Today was another day of both triumph and chaos. This wild bull just won’t leave us alone, there’s obviously a female here that he wont let go of. Last night the mahouts used gunshots to try to get rid of him and this afternoon he ventured to the nearby town of Kohora and so a posse of mahouts had to fend him off as there is no doubt he’d trash the town. Meanwhile we are trying to get everyone together for the workshop. So instead of 14 mahouts we had just a handful to begin with. Nevertheless we made big progress and today the mahout that was riding the elephant was able to guide the elephant totally himself for a few strides in stop go and step back. We still haven’t covered turns yet but it is only day 3. Pretty good as there are still mistakes in timing of pressure-release and positive reinforcement (were using bananas as reward).

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Purdoi, the young elephant, was doing very well and just as we were about to finish, she made a small elephant rumble (they are very communicative at the best of times). Well, from seemingly nowhere came her mother full tilt: 5 tonnes of maternal instinct and seething anger. This was serious and potentially dangerous. The mahout was impressively fast to dismount and the rest of us found new legs. Finally, mother was becalmed and we began again and all went well as if nothing had happened.

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So from the training point of view, today again went beyond our expectations, but always we are reminded that we are dealing with wild animals (there is no such thing as a domestic elephant) and the elephants here are largely free range for much of the day. This freedom is great for their welfare but you never know quite where they are coming from. The second elephant again never turned up till nightfall owing to the bull keeping many of the elephants away.

In the afternoon we had a meeting with Mr N K Vasu, Director of the Indian Forest Service. I reiterated The HELP Foundation’s desire to build mahout schools in India, which is the ultimate solution for both mahout and working elephant welfare and the Director showed genuine interest in the project. India is an amazing diverse country, I must say I love it, where you should always expect the unexpected.

Let’s see what tomorrow brings.