Our Board Members

Dr. Andrew McLean
Dr. Andrew McLean

Co-Founder & Chairman

Dr Portland Jones
Dr Portland Jones

Board Member

Nicki Stuart
Nicki Stuart

Board member

Ben Fulton-Gillon
Ben Fulton-Gillon

Jr. Vice Chairperson

Marlee Horobin
Marlee Horobin

Marketing Director

Alex Lilley
Alex Lilley

Compliance and Legal Officer

Mel Boot
Mel Boot

Treasurer & Secretary

 

Our Patron

Dr. Christine Townend
Dr. Christine Townend

Patron

Andrew and his team have worked with the Wildlife Trust of India where I have witnessed the extraordinary site of a young, wild elephant becoming enthusiastically co-operative as he was taught his basic riding training. These young elephants are not tethered and so are free to leave at any moment. This young male did so and then returned time after time for further interaction with Andrew. There is no doubt he enjoyed the training. I hope that this new method of teaching elephants becomes global and future human-animal inter-relations can be based on love, compassion and trust, rather than fear and domination.

Christine Townend
Patron

 

Our Advisors

Wiebke Hendriksen
Wiebke Hendriksen

Advisor

Laurie Pond
Laurie Pond

Advisor

 More from our Team

We asked each member of our team 3 questions about their reasons for being involved with the H-ELP Foundation.
Click on their name to see their answers.

Opportunities you see for the H-ELP Foundation:

Traditional elephant training has a very similar history to horse training. Both are around 5000 years old and both are steeped in tradition and folklore.

On the other hand the scientific understanding of learning and behaviour is only around half a century old, so it is easy to see why science is slow to gain traction in these age-old practices.

Our mission began before the H-ELP Foundation was started, over a decade ago, in Nepal with an organisation known as The Working Elephant Programs of Asia. My involvement began after being invited to assist in a revolutionary scientific training approach to curb the deaths of mahouts and the abuse and deaths of elephants that far too commonly occur throughout Asia directly because of traditional practices.

The results of these early workshops in eliminating training-related human/elephant conflict were so successful that the Nepalese government gave us the green light to roll these programs out all over Nepal.  

The success of our work relies on the uniqueness of our approach in the use of what is known as combined reinforcement. Combined reinforcement is the mixture of food reward training with pressure-release principles. On their own these are only marginally successful, however when combined, the results are extraordinary.

The H-ELP Foundation’s workshops have now extended to both North and South India with attendance from surrounding States (supported by The Wildlife Trust of India), Thailand (supported by the National Elephant Institute and the Royal Stables) and Myanmar (supported by the Myanmar Timber Enterprises).

Again our success has been so great that we are now the official training partners with all of these institutions. A bonus to our success has been the increased training efficiency of elephants in anti-poaching, and this is just the tip of the iceberg so to speak.

There is still more work to do in these countries and also in other countries including Africa. The scourge of poaching is driven by the street value of elephant products in traditional medicine and with the decline of habitats as well as the decline in elephant numbers as a result of poaching, we see our remit as having an increasing conservation element where elephant training can directly lead to an increase in wild elephant populations because of their indispensable role in anti-poaching patrols.

Opportunities you see forthe H-ELP Foundation:

The H-ELP Foundation’s mission is twofold – to improve the training of working elephants through the application of evidence based principles and by doing so improve, not only the welfare of the elephants, but also the safety of their mahouts. The H-ELP Foundation has the opportunity to not only improve animal welfare but also to play a humanitarian role in communities in the developing world.

Reasons for wanting to be involved:

With just a small team, the H-ELP Foundation has already had a significant impact on the welfare of working elephants across Asia. Habitat loss means that it is no longer possible to return elephants to the wild so we must ensure that working elephants are trained and managed in the most ethical way possible.

If elephant training is not made more sustainable it is possible that in the future elephants will exist only in zoos and national parks. This would be a great loss, not only culturally and historically, but also because the number of elephants that can be sustained in these environments is understandably small. With improved training methods the elephant will be able to continue working alongside humans for generations to come.

Why the H-ELP Foundation?

Whenever evidence based training principles are adopted animal welfare improves. Providing support and education for mahouts ensures that elephant training is not only ethical but also sustainable.

Opportunities you see for the H-ELP Foundation:

With assistance from our partner organisations, the H-ELP Foundation has already ensured that opportunities to improve the welfare of working elephants have been exploited successfully. Recognition and adoption of our work is growing. Together, we can ensure humane outcomes for working elephants.

Reasons for wanting to be involved:

When I was invited to join this organisation I saw it as an opportunity to make a difference to the well being of elephants and improve the lives of their handlers. My understanding of horse training and the value of combined reinforcement for ridden animals made it a logical step to transfer these principles to working elephants.

Why the H-ELP Foundation?:

The skills and principles that the H-ELP Foundation offers are unique and are there to aid elephants that are already captive and working. Until the world has no working elephants, the H-ELP Foundation will be needed.

Opportunities you see for the H-ELP Foundation:

With the ever evolving nature of the charity, it is very exciting to be involved with such a driven team. The H-ELP Foundation improves the welfare of working elephants which are used to great effect in anti-poaching activities. It is exciting to be a part of this new charity, as recognised by the Australian Taxation Office in granting us tax-deductible gift recipient status.

Abuse ends where knowledge begins and if the H-ELP Foundation can continue to improve the training and encourage the use of working elephants in anti-poaching environments such as India’s Kaziranga National Park, then benefits follow. This will aid will not only increase the increase the Rhinoceros population in this part of in India, it also aid the re-introduction of the Rhino into other parks throughout Asia.

With deforestation a primary cause for the loss of habitat and with elephants proven to be a highly intelligent species it is paramount that those who have relied on these animals for thousands of years are given the opportunity to understand and learn how important and valuable elephants are and why we should save them from being traded for ivory, medicine and food.

Reasons for wanting to be involved:

Investment in knowledge pays the best interest and my passion for welfare of animals continues to evolve. I am lucky to be able to work with qualified professionals who have invested their time and experience into their scientific studies of animal welfare and are now using this knowledge for elephant conservation.

It is my role to help communicate this message to an audience and put the pieces of what these amazing people are doing together. Raising awareness for the science of human and elephant learning and how it can benefit not only the mahouts and the elephants but also improve the population of elephants; ultimately creating a harmonious environment between humans and animals.

Why the H-ELP Foundation?

I believe that understanding the relationship between humans and elephants is vital to protecting these animals. The scientific based methods used by the H-ELP Foundation’s trainers is continuing to evolve and showcase the positive outcome of education. I am eager to continue to learn and assist the H-ELP Foundation in raising awareness and it is an exciting time to be involved.

Opportunities you see for the H-ELP Foundation:

Whilst a large number of elephant welfare charities focus on those elephants which are ‘free’ and live in the wild, the H-ELP Foundation’s primary focus is elephants held in captivity. Ideally, there would no captive elephants, however cultural factors, environmental and economic issues mean this dream scenario is not practical. This is what attracted me to the H-ELP Foundation initially in addition to the direct impact the charity has on not only the elephants’ welfare but also the elephant trainers who appreciate learning new training techniques, which have such immediate positive impacts on elephant behaviour.

Reasons for wanting to be involved:

I have always been interested in social justice and animal welfare, and throughout my tertiary studies strengthened my interest in the role of non-governmental organisations in international relations and development.

The H-ELP Foundation has previously met with the Sri Lankan Ambassador to Myanmar, and Burmese ministers to assist in the implementation of positive training and handling methods for human interaction with elephants. The H-ELP Foundation has continued to gain momentum and is currently in the process of making contact with the Indian Federal Government with the purpose to spread awareness of the H-ELP Foundation’s charitable mission to an even broader audience.

Why the H-ELP Foundation?

The H-ELP Foundation’s trainers provide short, intensive training courses (workshops) to local elephant handlers . Further ongoing support is provided via the distribution of the H-ELP Foundation’s instruction manual “Elephant friendly training for working elephants”, which has been translated into local languages.

In the workshops, the H-ELP Foundation demonstrates the techniques and provides the elephant trainers with the opportunity to practise and learn the skills. In general, these elephants are already permanently housed in the various elephant camps where they are used for national park surveillance for poaching prevention, wildlife monitoring and census of populations. Through the workshops, the H-ELP Foundation contributes to the development, welfare and safety of elephant handlers and trainers across India, Thailand and Myanmar.

The H-ELP Foundation has grown significantly in the international elephant training sector and is recognised as a humane alternative to traditional submission based methods which are harmful, cruel and ineffective. Further, the H-ELP Foundation recognises that elephants will continue to be relied on by local communities and aims to engage and educate local elephant trainers to practice cruelty free methods.

Opportunities you see for the H-ELP Foundation:

The H-ELP Foundation is a unique charity which focuses on the welfare of working elephants by teaching their trainers how to apply ethical training techniques which optimise the quality of life of the elephant in captivity and the safety of the elephant handlers. Communities rely on these elephants for agriculture, forestry and anti-poaching. The H-ELP Foundation’s work enhances both the lives of people in these communities and the welfare of the elephants that they use.

Reasons for wanting to be involved:

As a UK Chartered Accountant and an Australian CPA, I felt that I had financial and organisational skills that could assist such a worthwhile organisation as the H-ELP Foundation. All our Board Members are volunteers and put in extremely long hours in their area of expertise to allow our trainers to travel overseas to train elephant handlers in ethical training methods. I wanted to give my time to assist this incredibly worthwhile cause.

Why the H-ELP Foundation?

Five years ago I started studying horse training using evidence-based training techniques, founded in equitation science, established by Dr Andrew McLean.  Equitation science strives to modernise horse training with the latest scientific data on the natural behaviour of horses, their learning processes, human and equine biomechanics, handler and rider effects, and attachment.  When horse training is aligned with these elements, it becomes optimally successful and safe, thus greatly improving horse welfare in the equestrian sport and liberates horses and riders from the trappings of tradition, mythology and hearsay.  Very similar techniques can be applied to the training of elephants.  When elephants are trained using evidence-based training techniques based on learning theory, confusion and frustration by elephants is minimised and therefore handlers are safer, and elephants are more likely to be treated well as they understand what the handlers require them to do.

Opportunities you see for HELP:

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend a lot of time on the ground with the H-ELP Foundation as a photographer and have seen first hand the spectrum of issues and complexities that surround elephant welfare in South East Asia.

From the abused and individually suffering animals to the industry, its regulation and both the religious and economic forces at play, I can see so many opportunities for HELP to lead a new wave in understanding elephants in captivity and how we can use science to identify and minimise suffering in captive elephants.

Reasons for wanting to be involved:

I saw it as the adventure of a lifetime and the opportunity to do something with purpose.

After my first hands-on encounter with the H-ELP Foundation’s work in India, seeing what was happening and understanding that something could be done, I wanted to be involved. Since then, it’s been the most enjoyable part of my life..

Why the H-ELP Foundation?

I have spent well over 100 hours questioning listening and learning from the H-ELP Foundation’s founder Dr Andrew McLean. He has (very patiently) explained to me how similar the various methods of training animals are, and how the learning process is similar across different animal species.

From this I have come to believe that the application of the same behavioural methods and techniques on elephants that work for dogs and humans is the best solution. I love the scientific basis for the organisation.  We are a scientific organisation and our content is valued because it is proven and based on ethical standards.