Your life begins to end the moment you start being silent about the things that matter.
Like horse training, elephant training is roughly 5000 years old. It is steeped in tradition and mahouts (elephant trainers) generally learn from their father and grandfather.
An ever decreasing habitat and a growing tendency towards anthropomorphism (when people attribute human tendencies and qualities to animals) makes the elephant vulnerable to a changing tourist demand. These beautiful creatures need a purpose - there is simply not enough space in the world to “set them free” and doing so is likely to create more human/elephant conflict when they come close to farm land or pass through villages to get to the river for water. Tourism is essential for their survival. Well managed tourism is essential to create a life worth living.
As a horse trainer my philosophy is simple - training must be based on the scientific principles of learning. Evidence based training takes the guess work out of working with horses, it privileges the welfare of the horse and improves rider safety. This is simply and easily transferred to any animal and so far I have had experience training dogs, cats, chickens, horses, camels, sheep and elephants.
In order to provide elephants with purpose, while keeping tourists, handlers and mahouts safe we must apply these scientific, evidence based methods of training. And it is very easily done. In my experience so far, many mahouts are naturally very good trainers and are already applying many of these principles. With a little tweaking they can make their training more efficient and clearer for the elephant, which in turn will strengthen the bond between elephant and mahout.
So far this trip we have trained about 30 mahouts, trainers, camp managers and even one very enthusiastic nature reserve owner who is also a snake wrangler, conservationist and generally cool guy from OurLand Thailand who took to elephant training really well.
We’re refining our processes for delivery so we now have a plan to suit most situations and we’ve had great results at each clinic, seeing huge changes in the elephants and their trainers through the clarity of the training.
I’m constantly amazed at the size and beauty of these animals, but when they settle into really clear and consistent training of leg control and trunk control they are calm and quiet and it is easy to feel as comfortable beside them as I am beside the horses I train each day.
The work we do with H-ELP is so important and rewarding for both human and animal welfare, it is such a privilege to work amongst these animals and learn from Dr Andrew McLean as well as the mahouts and camp managers who teach us about local customs so that we can be culturally sensitive in the way we deliver our training.