Question: My wife Sarah and I are livestock and grape farmers at Coonawarra in South Australia and we have both (together- Sarah is a Mining Engineer by trade) completed a Low Stress Stockhandling Course with KLR’s Chook Kealey and Nic Kentish a couple of years ago. Also did the KLR Sell/Buy course about 5 yrs ago with Graeme and Rod in Mt Gambier– been having a great time in the cattle market since.
Here is the story.
A few short years ago we were in Thailand and we visited an Elephant farm/park http://www.elephantnaturepark.org/index.htm in the north of Thailand with the aim of proposing to Sarah on the back of an elephant. Little did I know that this was the only place in the whole country where riding is frowned upon. It turns out that the owner (Lek)takes in animals that have had a hard time in both Burma and Thailand and rehabilitates them, both physically and mentally. Most have suffered a lot of abuse and neglect. Some have had feet or parts of feet and legs blown off with landmines. They are fed back to health and reworked back into the herd.
It is quite an experience to feed a mob of elephants and have the little ones pick up fruit right out of your hands. Having visitors feed the big ones directly apparently is not a good practice as if something goes wrong a visitor looses an arm or a head…they are a lot bigger up close than they look. One interesting thing was when we went for a walk in the jungle with a few adults, it is just something to have a 4 ton animal vanish into the undergrowth only a few yards away from you.
The method in Asia to break in an elephant seems that to beat and goad the tethered animal into complete submission. Only then do they start to train them to command.
As a stockman and someone with some experience of the peasant mentality (in both developed and third world countries) I am unable to see how the break in practice can be changed unless a better and cheaper way can be worked out. This also means that Lek has an unending source of poorly looked after elephants to work with but that is another issue.
Here is the question.
Do you think you could work out a method of breaking in elephants that does not involve the current mental and physical technique?
Probably not a lot of elephants in Independence, Kansas to work with but I figure that they are just another herd animal…
Reading one of your musings a while ago I remember you writing that you could get on pretty much any horse after a half hour or so of work. Maybe some similar techniques could be used? (At a later time and place Sarah said yes and now we have Mawson who is our little man and is 5 mths old).
Answer: A method could be worked out to train elephants that doesn’t involve beating and goading the animals, but this would involve changing the whole culture of the local people and that would be the problem. Eunice and have worked for years and now other people are helping to change the attitude in the US and AUSTRALIA. With these many years of work we have changed a very small percentage of the people that own cattle and sheep. The problem is never the animals it is the people.
People try to use fear, force, or treats to train animals and none of these work all that well. This is where the problem starts. People who don’t want to use fear and force try to use treats or their idea of being “good” to the animal. This works just enough to keep people doing it but is not the solution. To work animals without fear, force or treats it takes an understanding of the animals and what they need. This takes time for someone to learn. Since people would prefer not to spend this time to learn they just keep using whatever they have always used. If someone did try to use a different method the other people would criticize and ridicule them until most people would stop the new and go back to what everyone else was doing.
I realize this didn’t help but at least I got to say what I think.
Many trained elephants are used in zoos and shows in the US. I’m sure that they are not trained the way you said. If you are serious about this I would think you could find out more about their training methods.