Thailand Jan 2009: Elephant Camp (1 of 2)
We spent 3 awesome days at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, learning to be Mahouts, or Elephant trainers.
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The facility has approximately 50 elephants. Many are retired from or rescued from logging camps. They are also trying to keep things going with a breeding program. Here's the youngest resident, Piyanut, who was about 2 and a half months old when we visited.
Upon our arrival to the camp we visited the nursery area, where there were three youngsters, who were very happy to greet us. I am sure it was more than just looking for a food handout.
Tana's elephant, Wannalee, shows some good form in returning the ankus, or mahout tool, that Tana has carelessly dropped. Actually, dropping and returning the tool is part of the training. Mostly is was us being trained, as the elephants are very smart and knew exactly what to do.
After our morning training we participated in the elephant show that is put on three times daily for the visitors to the center. The elephants could probably do the show by themselves, without any direction from the mahouts.
As well as performing a few tricks and putting on a demonstration of logging techniques, the elephants do a bit of painting as part of the show. Some are abstract artists, some take direction well and can be steered to writing letters and words.
Our accomodation was right in the village where the mahouts and other camp workers lived. They were nice and took great care of us. Here Zane watches as a mahout goes by on his way home from work. For some reason his elephant stayed near the village at night - most of the others were taken out to the forest to spent the night.
The next day we donned our mahout suits and went to class. Here we learned 3 ways to get on and off the elephant, as well as several commands to control the elephants. Here Zane shows some good form in getting up on the elephant by jumping onto his neck. The elephants were very patient with us.
Most of the mahouts spoke very little english, put they were very funny and liked to play various tricks, like directing the elephants to spray other mahout trainees or visitors to the park. The mahouts are assigned to an elephant shortly after it is born and stay with it for life, basically. Most of the mahouts were very gentle with the elephants and did not need to use the ankus at all to get them to behave.