Andrew’s blog: Our last training day had finally arrived. We only had a couple of hours to devote to this final session as the closing ceremony was to take place before noon.
Following bathing Unni and Sundari, we assessed and practiced all our ridden work including gait transitions, turns, immobility as well as raising the foreleg for mounting. All this work was showing the beginnings of consolidation and Ben and I felt comfortable with what had been achieved over the 5 days.
So next we took both elephants to where the ceremony was to take place and repeated our work with Unni. Despite the overtraining the day before, Unni was trunk perfect and picked up the bigger stick and handed it to the mahout above every single time, on voice commands alone. So we moved on to the smaller stick and again Unni showed he had acquired the response. Only once did he revert to his default confusion of picking up the stick but then putting it in his mouth. So we decided Unni was now finished in his training for this workshop.
I couldn’t help but be proud of him and how far he had come. He was no longer showing his stereotypical swaying, and had a calmness about Sundari on the other hand had well and truly acquired her responses of picking up objects and even to the extent of either giving it to the mahout above or to a person standing by, all on voice commands from Mr Sagee. So we once again practiced with the garland being placed around a person’s neck. That was 100% successful. So the time arrived for the dignitaries to assemble for our closing ceremony. We began with them all in a line and the Chief Conservator of Forests, Mr Varghese was in the middle with the mahouts and workshop attendees all behind. Right on command Sundari walked up to Mr Varghese, and placed the garland around his neck. This received huge applause and I think Mr Varghese was really shocked to see that we had actually trained Sundari to do this. She then did the same thing for the next in line Chief, Mr Amit Malik.
Our ceremony closed with speeches from many dignitaries, plus some of the mahouts who described their experiences with the workshop. The feelings were unanimous that they had learned another way to achieve the things they want and in a more efficient and effective way.
One mahout described how skeptical he initially was, but now he could see a clearer way, and his eyes were now opened to the problems and cruelty of previous punishing techniques. I was pleased to hear him say this unsolicited. I had also learned so much from the mahouts in terms of the traditional Keralese signals and practices they use and ways that they set up behaviours to make it easier for the elephants to learn. Tomorrow we are going to Guruvayoor to meet the Chief Veterinary officer for the Temple elephants (elephants used for ceremonial purposes), and so this will finalise my last blog for this trip.