I just completed my first trip with H-elp to Laos and Thailand and it was an incredible experience. It is one that I am still digesting. In my first blog I wrote of my initial experience working and being so close to elephants and how my knowledge of Learning Theory and work with horses made the transition to elephants so fluid. This continued to be my experience with each new place we visited and trained. I also became more comfortable being around these impressive animals and perhaps a better sense for reading their behaviour.
But what makes a trip with H-elp so much more dynamic and interesting is not just seeing the significant positive changes with each elephant we worked with but to engage, train and educate the Mahouts and the local population. It is the Human-Elephant Learning Program after all and it is this human component that can be the most challenging yet rewarding. Translating all of these ideas and concepts into Laos and Thai adds another challenge because these languages are very descriptive and often there are no simple translatable words from English. We conducted workshops with the Mahouts introducing concepts of animal welfare, foreign viewpoints of elephant conservation in SE Asia and of course improving their knowledge of learning theory and its applications. It is vital to uplift both the elephant and human experience.
This segues into another invaluable insight I gained from this trip. It involves the controversial and hotly debated topic of the way forward for elephants in SE Asia. Not surprisingly people (especially back home in the western world from the comfort of their couches) seem to have a fairly black and white viewpoint. I must admit I was fairly ignorant to these issues too but after my time with H-elp, I see that it is much more complicated and that it will take time, patience, education and progressive evidence-based training practices to create sustainable ways forward for the elephant.
In closing I am so thankful for Dr. Andrew Mc Lean and all the amazing people and trainers of H-elp. It was a brilliant team that made every moment enjoyable. I see now first hand how this incredible organization lives up to its name. It is a large undertaking but I look forward to the challenge. The Elephants and Mahouts deserve it.