Andrew’s blog: Day four already, and thankfully the bull stayed away and the park settled into a more relaxed state again. We did have one small hold up as one elephant that has been used for jungle safari rides for tourists developed an abscess on his withers as a result of saddle pressure. So the vet came and removed quite a bit of fibrous tissue, which cased the elephant considerable pain as there was no local anaesthetic, yet all the while she remained laying down and under the control of the mahout who used mostly voice to keep her down. I contemplated the power of training competing with the pain and the desire to get up and run away. Interestingly this elephant’s back is flatter than the others whose backs are more arched. There is a need for education in saddle fit versus back shape in elephants.
Finally it was Purdoi’s time for training and all the mahouts assembled to begin our training session. Purdoi moved easily though all the commands that we installed over the last 3 sessions. Papu is Purdoi’s young mahout of 16 years of age. Elephants live for over 60 years and their life span and maturation rates are similar to humans. A mahout may stick with the one elephant for life so a deeply enmeshed relationship develops. We ventured from not just 4 steps forward and 2 steps back but to many more steps forward and back. Purdoi is now mostly responsive to the voice commands ‘Agat!’ for forward and ‘Pichu Pichu!’ for step back. We then added in turns where the mahout commands ‘Seh!’ and gives the pressure signal with his toes behind just one of the elephant’s ear.
Purdoi is now comfortably moving along lines and turns so the next step was to diminish the assistance of the handlers on the ground and leave the control up to Papu. As time progressed we gradually faded the ground assistance and Purdoi is now moving freely and is mostly independent of any assistance except for Papu’s. This particular session was a clencher. Up till now the mahouts were understandably somewhat skeptical, however their smiles and enthusiasm today betrayed their endorsement of this approach. Ben arranged for tea to be provided at the session’s finale, and so at question time at the end of the day, the feeling was one of a watershed moment for the mahouts. It was touching that they told me that they were stressed and had trouble sleeping when they heard the nightly cries of the young elephants when they endured the torturous traditional breaking in. These guys really care for their elephants; all they need is education in training. The need for mahout schools is ever pressing.