I am taking a moment to reflect on my second trip to Thailand and Laos with H-elp. Last year was my initiation to working with elephants and their mahouts and what an amazing and insightful experience it was. Largely it was difficult to fully articulate the entire experience as it was so profound. The same can be said for this trip.
In my first trip I was initially concerned about making the transition from training horses to elephants but was surprised how smooth this was. This speaks to the strength of understanding and using techniques based on learning theory. It truly makes cross-species training fluid as the clarity of the training language is simple. In the same vane, this clarity assists in training the mahouts to work with their elephants in a more effective way which ultimately improves the elephant’s welfare.
This year we have had the opportunity to work with a couple new elephant camps in addition to the ones from last year which has been incredible as more organizations are seeing the value of this type of training. This year however we too are continuing to evolve as an organization and as trainers to really create a holistic platform that addresses not only the training aspects but the all the issues that will improve the welfare of the elephant in SE Asia. Clear training is critical, but so it addressing the social needs, the healthy eating requirements and the mental wellbeing of the elephant to name just a few.
The situation in SE Asia in terms of human-elephant interaction is complex and I have come to realize there are no easy black and white solutions but if we are to be an advocate for these incredible apex animals, then they need a voice based on holistic approaches founded in evidence-base knowledge across the spectrum of topics. Sweeping and uneducated comments such as ban this, boycott that, rewild all the elephants will only quicken their already tentative existence. In this I am proud of the piece I am contributing as a trainer for such an enlightened and progressive organization like H-elp to find this way forward for the elephant.