Hasthisiksha!

There were 23 mahouts who arrived for the workshop. Our first task was to find out how much of what they had learned last time had been remembered and utilised. It was encouraging to hear senior mahouts who had been training the traditional way for such a long time telling of their success with using combined reinforcement (mix of positive and negative reinforcement.

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The Temple Festival
Temple-Festival

The Temple Festival

Ben, Ramith (our translator) and myself took an overnight train to the Guruvayoor elephant residence where possibly the world’s largest collection of tuskers (male elephants) are housed. Here live 60 elephants, 56 of which are mature tuskers. The Chief Veterinary officer and a senior mahout gave us a tour of these captive elephants all of whom are used for ceremonial purposes, namely temple festivals.

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Day 5 – The mahouts show us what they have learnt

Neither elephant had ever learned to pick and give objects so I was prepared to start at the beginning and reward simply just touching the stick that they were supposed to pick up. Sundari was the first candidate and her motivation for food rewards is so high that she took only three repetitions to pick up objects and when with a little directional help from us on the ground, she was soon transferring a stick that she had been asked to pick up to a mahout on board!

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Day 4 – Mahouts take control
Day-4-workshop

Day 4 – Mahouts take control

Because things had been going so well and because of the possibility of our routines becoming stale, I decided that in the afternoon we should take both elephants on a ridden safari to the grazing grounds where they could freely graze for an hour or two. So we headed out, the two elephants with their mahouts aboard and the 15 or so mahouts and trainers on foot..

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Day 2 – Meet Unni and Sundari

We arrived at the Elephant Rehabilitation Centre in the Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kottoor in the morning to get a fuller picture of Unni during his early morning bathing time. Bathing elephants can take up to 2 hours as their entire bodies are scrubbed while they lay on their sides blowing bubbles and squirting water around.

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Our first workshop in Kerala has begun!
Day 1 Kerala Elephant Training Workshop

Our first workshop in Kerala has begun!

The Assam - Kerala dichotomy in elephant training and management is like the French and German divide in horse training, only 10 fold deeper. So Kerala is a new frontier. This 7day workshop at the Neyyar Wildlife Sanctuary is therefore the first one here in the state of Kerala, and today is demo day where I show the workshop participants and few dignitaries an example of our training.

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