Today is our day of travel from one corner of India to the other in 14 hours. We left our hotel at 4.30 am and then flew from Trivandrum to Delhi and then Delhi to Guwahati in the northeast and then drove for 5 hours to Manas. We must have passed over a million people on the roads as well as hundreds of cattle and goats that were on the road or sometimes lying in the middle of the road. We were very happy to finally arrive at our guesthouse on the edge of the National Park. We were met there by the HELP Patron, Christine Townend. Christine’s charity, Working For Animals has been instrumental in all my visits to India, donating money each time for accommodation. She had decided she wanted to see the training for herself and it great for Jonna and I to spend a few days with her.
Next morning at 6.30 we were met by Dr Bhaskar at the elephant camp and we began our work with two 4.5-year old males, Dada and Rabi Prasad. Both were untrained but familiar with humans (they were becoming a nuisance in the camp as they were inquisitive and very tame yet quite unruly, so it was decided they needed training). We had a handful of mahouts who were participating in the workshop and who might eventually be the ones to teach the others as well as a few interested mahouts who sat in. So we set to work first with a brief talk about the basic principles of training.
First we began with Dada, a small yet feisty little fellow with tusks who, during breaks would play fight with the other male like 2 young teenagers, always sparring. Rabi Prasad had no tusks but was a quite a bit bigger so he had size and weight on his side. After a few repetitions of the voice command, the pressure release and then the secondary reinforcer/food, (we used bananas and sugar cane, Dada began to catch on. We were only focusing on step back so as to achieve early control, and then once he had some idea of that, we began to introduce go and stop. We then began with Rabi Prasad and followed the same pattern. Rabi Prasad is a very laid back confident elephant who liked very much to be with humans. When we had morning tea he would try to get on to the low slung verandah which we allowed but only with his forefeet. Our morning tea consisted of a various seeds and pea-like vegetables and small cut up coconut on served on a broad leaf of some species. A more healthy snack you could hardly imagine. In the afternoon session we repeated our morning’s work and finished the day on a very positive note with mahouts working well and with good timing, and the elephants responding with increasing obedience.