Chain-Free in Thailand

Lotus stood perfectly still while her mahout removed the chain from her ankle. Next came Pang Dow and, last, Wassana, a land mine victim who lost part of her foot several years ago in an explosion.

They were unaware that their next few steps would be monumental.

Lovely Lotus led the small herd, the family she chose after arriving at Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (BLES). She walked in the direction of the corral. For a split second she hesitated at the gate opening. A calculating glance from gate post to gate post and the open span between and she was satisfied that it was safe to lead her family inside. Almost in slow motion, Lotus entered the chain-free corral.

I held my breath, knowing from experience the joy the elephants, their caregivers and the crew that only hours before had completed this first solar powered chain-free corral in Thailand, would feel.

Pang Dow and Wassana followed close behind Lotus, less than inches apart, as they silently flowed into the expansive corral filled with vegetation and clusters of trees. The air was buzzing with anticipation. The elephants knew something was up. How could they not? Half a dozen people gave off quite a collective energy as we watched in hopeful anticipation of the elephants’ reaction to their new found freedom.

Lotus, Pang Dow and Wassana cleared the gate opening, walked single file for less than 50 feet and then erupted into excited squeaks and trumpets. They broke line and huddled together, a tangle of trunks and tails, chattering excitedly, gently touching each other in reassurance.

The mahouts stayed silent to ensure the elephants knew they were free to do as they pleased–a novel experience for a captive-held elephant, especially in countries like Thailand, where elephants are a commodity used for tourist entertainment, always under the control of a mahout.

Before finding sanctuary at BLES, Wassana, Lotus and Pang Dow did not know freedom of any kind. Now they were about to experience the next level of freedom–autonomy. The ability to make their own choices about where they walk, when and with whom. What they eat, where they sleep and, most important, who they share their life with.

It took mere seconds for all three to realize they were free to wander at will. They moved like a school of fish, close together, in step with each other, exploring as one. Happy squeaks, trumpets, chattering and ground thumps echoed across the hilly terrain.

They soon forgot the humans who observed from outside the corral. They were in their own world, with their family, free from chains, to interact and share the natural habitat together.

After sampling the tender vegetation underfoot, they made their way into a thicket of trees. With low rumbles and tender chirps they disappeared into their personal mini-sanctuary.

Each time I witness the release of an elephant from chains, I am flooded with such deep emotion and with such gratitude, it’s as if it’s the first time I’ve experienced such a joyful event.

I see their immediate shift, their letting go of the past. They accept the gift provided and without looking back immerse themselves in their new found freedom.

I know that we have given a gift so great it transforms them. Being witness to an elephant’s release is life changing, the most powerful experience I’ve ever had.

Elephants living in captivity are stripped of everything meaningful in their lives; autonomy, freedom of choice, family. Sanctuary life begins to restore some of these things. Although most captive-held elephants will never experience a real family of their own, they form bonds as deep and meaningful with unrelated others as if they were biologically related.

The pure joy an elephant exhibits when given a resemblance of freedom is what drives me to do more. Chain free does mean pain free to these elephants. It is an honor to give back some of what has been taken away.

View their release https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bl99gNkhSWo and their introduction to their new chain-free corral https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vnoHWWkAc24 on YouTube

Why Does That Elephant Have A Chain Around His Neck?

For the past few years, most of my time and energy has been devoted to freeing captive held elephants from chains.

Working alongside Nepali partners, we have created 37 chain free corrals, in 15 different elephant facilities. Before years end, we will add another five chain free corrals in two facilities in Thailand and a huge 100 acre habitat in India.

Chain Free Means Pain Free has caught on.

As more elephants are freed from leg chains, attention is shifting to the neck harness elephants wear during anti poaching patrol.

In the case of elephants in Nepal, the neck harness serves one purpose. It enables a mahout  to stay seated if his elephant become frightened and runs.

Some neck harnesses are made of rope. Others are a combination of rope and light weight chain. All are loose fitting and have loops for the mahouts’ feet. These loops lie flat along the side of the elephants’ neck, behind each ear.

Remaining seated when an elephant spins around and runs away is virtually impossible, unless you’re feet are strapped in.

In the case of Laxman Gaj and his twin brother Ram Gaj, a combination harness is used. The bottom half of the harness is chain. The half that goes over the top of their neck is rope.

Laxman and Ram are young elephants, only six years old. Regardless of their youth, they are required to participate in daily anti poaching patrol activities in Chitwan National Park. Being young, they are easily frightened when surprised by a wild rhino or tiger.

They wear the harness because when an elephant is frightened, he or she runs away. Spinning and then sprinting at speeds up to 30 miles per hour, can cause a rider to fall off.

Having a harness adds a sense of security for the mahout who clearly knows that if he falls from his elephant, while in proximity of a wild rhino or tiger, he will be killed.

When the elephant recovers from his or her fright, the patrol resumes.

When an elephant learns s/he is able to escape a frightening situation, their self confidence builds. With each exposure to wildlife their fear level is further diminished. By the time they reach adulthood, the elephant has gained the experience necessary to fearlessly encounter wild tigers, rhinos and bears.

Undoubtedly, some will insist that the harness is unnecessary as elephants should simply be returned to the wild. I have no problem with this argument. But, until such time as society evolves, some elephants are destined to remain in captivity.

Constructed and used properly, a neck harness is harmless and provides measurable benefits. The mahouts’ personal safety is guarded, while a young elephant is allowed his natural response to fear, without being punishment.

Elephant Aid International August eNewsletter

 

August 13, 2013

Elephants are in the headlines like never before. Every day we are bombarded with news of the brutal slaughter of elephants in their home countries.

Governments and conservation organizations are taking action but the killing continues at an alarming rate. We feel the victims’ pain as if we ourselves were there on the savannas of Africa and in the dense jungles of Asia, hearing the screams of the innocent ones, while we stand by, helpless.

It is that sense of helplessness that is most distressing. To stand witness to such brutality and have no recourse for solution is excruciating.

This is exactly why Elephant Aid International (EAI) serves one world, one elephant at a time. We make our goals reachable, our dreams attainable, so that with each success we are driven to do more.

When our labor bears fruit we are empowered to continue. The work is not easy and the result of each effort not equal but, with your support, we are making a difference for needy elephants.

 

Chain‐Free Corral Project – Asia Model

We are excited to expand our chain­free corral project to yet another country.

This October, two internationally recognized elephant facilities in Thailand—the Friends of the Asian Elephant, Thailand’s first elephant hospital, and Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary, known worldwide for its outstanding elephant care—will host EAI.

At that time we will determine the size and locations of chain­-free elephant corrals on the premises of both facilities.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The plan is to design the corrals this fall and build them next spring. We will keep you informed of our progress in the coming months. Your support of Thailand’s Chain-­Free Corrals is sincerely appreciated.

 

Sanctuary Search

It has been reported that due to space restrictions or elephant health status, neither of the two elephant sanctuaries in the U.S. is able to welcome additional elephants at this time. This obviously creates a problem for needy elephants from zoos and circuses who need to be retired or rescued.

Since no sanctuary space is currently available, EAI has decided to search for land to create a new elephant sanctuary. We have identified several possibilities in Florida, Georgia and Alabama.

We are now raising funds to cover the cost to visit and inspect each property on our list. Many of the properties look good on paper but we have to see them in person, walk the land and ask pertinent questions, to determine if one of these properties is suitable for elephants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If you’d like to be part of this exciting new project literally from the ground up, please donate to our Sanctuary Search Fund. We will keep you posted on our progress.

 

Mentoring a Dude

Menlo Park Middle School in Northern California, celebrates an annual “Dude, That’s Wrong” program.

Assisted by a mentor, students spend an entire semester researching a topic of their choice. It must be an issue they believe needs action. Not only is the student expected to explore the problem, they must propose possible solutions and present their completed project in front of the entire school.

Sixth grader Silas Stewart chose elephant mistreatment in captivity as his topic and EAI’s Carol Buckley as his mentor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As result of positive feedback from fellow students, teachers and his parents, Silas wanted to do more. He created an online petition asking the San Diego Zoo to do two things: separate their African and Asian elephants and shut down the exhibit. His hope is that the elephants will be moved to a sanctuary.

To date, Silas’ petition has received 521 signatures and a dozen supportive online comments.

 

Sophie and Babe

An online group of concerned individuals called Freedom for Sophie and Babe has been working for months raising awareness about two aged elephants living at the Niabi Zoo in Coal Valley, IL.

EAI’s CEO Carol Buckley spoke before members of the Forest Preserve Commission at a public meeting, encouraging them to release and rehome Sophie and Babe together at a sanctuary.

Days after the meeting, a spokesperson for the city stated that both elephants would be moved before winter, but the new home had not yet been determined.

 

Back to Work

EAI heads back to Asia in September. More elephant pedicures to provide, mahouts to train and chain-­free corrals to build. The word of our work is spreading and your support makes it all possible.

Thank you,

Carol Buckley

Founder and CEO

 

Our mailing address is:

Elephant Aid International

PO Box 106

4128 Buffalo Road

Hohenwald, TN 38462

www.ElephantAidInternational.org

PHONE: 931.­796.­1466
Copyright (C) 2012 Elephant Aid International All rights reserved.

Drag Chains and Training

Elephant’s World posted two videos on YouTube last week of me training a young elephant named Jon (you can view them here and here). I was surprised to see the videos and happy to know they exist.

Many people found the videos interesting and some have asked why Jon is wearing a chain. The chain is called a drag chain; in Asia it is used to prevent an elephant from running away. One end of the long chain is fastened around an elephant’s wrist and the other end drags behind.

When a mahout is afraid that his elephant will run away, he puts a drag chain on him. If the elephant runs, the mahout wraps the loose end of the chain around a tree to stop him.

The mahouts at Elephant’s World were resistant to non-dominance training and even more resistant to removing Jon’s drag chain. In order to be allowed to demonstrate positive reinforcement target training, I agreed to the drag chain for the first two sessions. One end of the chain was on Jon’s ankle and the other end was loose.

My adherence to their tradition gave the mahouts time to get comfortable with the new training method I offered. They observed firsthand that Jon was more interested in the training game than in trying to get away.

Jon showed such promise that after the second training session the mahouts agreed to remove the chain.

There have also been questions about the “stick” used during training. The stick, or target as it is called, is a flexible pole with a soft cushion on the end. If you view my training tutorial you will see how the target is used and learn the basic concept of target training.

The goal is to teach an elephant the name/word for different body parts, such as foot, head, ear, side, etc. Once understood—which takes most elephants only minutes to grasp—the elephant will voluntarily offer that body part when asked. The key is to ask, not demand, and always provide praise and a treat as a reward.

Before watching the videos of Jon’s training sessions, I suggest that you view the tutorial a couple of times. Then watch Jon’s first training session and see if you can identify what body parts Jon is learning. Notice that when Jon becomes frustrated he walks away, but returns almost immediately to try again.

Positive Reinforcement Target training gives the elephant the freedom to walk away, take a moment to reflect on what is happening and return when he is ready to try again. Walking away reduces frustration and increases the elephant’s willingness to participate.

You will also notice in the video that Jon offers behaviors–kneel and lie down. This is common in initial training sessions. Many times the elephant will offer what s/he already knows before starting to “problem solve” and figure out what the trainer is trying to teach.


Learning to think for themselves is the first thing the elephants learn. After that, training is a breeze.

Jon

Last year I had the honor of working with a young, energetic elephant named Jon. He was a recent rescue, living at Elephant’s World, a Thai-run facility outside of Bangkok.

To my surprise, two videos of Jon’s first training sessions showed up on YouTube. I was unaware that the videos even existed.

Watching Jon brought back a flood of memories: his intelligence, how he dealt with his initial distrust and confusion and how well he masked his fear. His energy was explosive and outdone only by his genius.

I can’t help but smile remembering his antics and eagerness to understand this new “game” — and his determination to prove that he could do anything!

Click here to view the YouTube videos

Click here to read blog entries about Jon. The most recent entries are at the top of the page.

The Surin Project

It has been more than a year since my stay at the Surin Project in Thailand. After viewing a YouTube video announcing the completion of their long-awaited fenced habitat, I had to check out their progress.

I was pleased to learn that their growth has been steady, meeting each goal they established along the way. This privately-run elephant welfare project faces the difficult challenge of operating within a larger, much different government-run elephant attraction. In my opinion, this project surpasses all others in its capacity to bring about change for captive Thai elephants.

This grassroots project is directed by Alex Godfrey and funded by volunteers and, in part, by the Abraham Foundation. The project subsidizes mahouts to ensure that their elephants receive nutritional food and live chain-free days, foraging, swimming and interacting with other elephants. Although the experience of seeing how government-subsidized mahouts and elephants live is disheartening, Alex’s project, in staggering contrast, demonstrates incredible promise. Experiencing the two diverse programs, side-by-side, can be eye-opening for volunteers.

The Surin Project is the real thing. If you plan to visit Asia, volunteering at the Surin Project is a must. You will experience firsthand the crisis facing Thai elephants and have an opportunity to be a significant part of the solution for improved elephant and mahout welfare.

Ngo-Hok, aka Jon, at Elephant’s World

Elephant’s World was one of the locations where I was fortunate to introduce positive reinforcement target training. I will return there to continue training, and to consult on facility development and elephant training and care.

During my last visit, Elephant’s World owner agreed to the idea of constructing a large fenced-in area so the elephants can be kept off chains. Fundraising is underway and hopefully by the time I return to Thailand in the fall, the fence will be in place.

Ngo-Hok, aka Jon, the young male elephant with whom I worked, has a history of aggression. Personally, I believe he was emotionally scarred by the traditional brutal training he received prior to coming to Elephant’s World. From the first session he responded enthusiastically to positive reinforcement target training. I was at Elephant’s World for only about a week, but during that time Ngo-Hok/Jon excelled at demonstrating to the mahouts that he can learn and will respond favorably, at least to this technique of training.

Unfortunately, the language barrier was a challenge. The mahouts tried to understand what I was telling them but they simply could not. Even though Ngo-Hok/Jon was brilliant during his target training sessions, the mahouts failed to continue the training after I left.

The staff needs further training to grasp the concept and develop the technique of this training which is so foreign to them. I look forward to returning to Elephant’s World to continue the training. This time I will recruit a translator, which is the only way to ensure that the mahouts understand the philosophy and learn the technique.

Following is an interview that an Elephant’s World volunteer did with Piza, Ngo-Hok/Jon’s mahout. The volunteer posed the questions as if I had asked them.

 

Q: How is Ngo-Hok/Jon doing?

He is doing better since the last time you saw him. Sometimes he is stubborn, and then I cannot climb on this back. He is more often around the other elephants, during swimming and eating, but I have to stay close to him because he is playful and annoys the older female.

He is now very close with Rom Sai, the full-grown tusker, like a father and son. He has escaped a couple of times in the last months but he comes back to stay with Rom Sai. When eating together, he likes to take food from the other elephants. Only Rom Sai will allow this. I believe the other elephants will hit him if I am not there.

Last evening I didn’t take him to the forest because he did not let me get on his back earlier in the day — he was stubborn. In this way I am trying to teach him. Also, after he is stubborn he will try to escape when I take him out of the forest. I am trying to teach him that if he obeys and allows me on his back, he will be rewarded with a trip to the forest.

Ngo-Hok/Jon is growing; he is now taller than me. In one month he has gained about 10 kgs. He now weighs close to 800 kgs and eats about 80 kgs a day.

 

Q: Do you think Ngo-Hok/Jon can stay with the other elephants?

He can stay with other elephants. He can stay close to Rom Sai, who will protect him. For now he can stay with the females as well because they are older women and he is still young. But as he gets older and new female elephants come in, it will be a problem.

Q: How do you feel around Ngo-Hok/Jon since he tried to hurt you?

I feel better around him now, but have to be careful all the time. After the accident I was a little bit afraid, but not anymore. When I am with him anyone can come close, but if I am not there, people cannot come close. If I have one day off, Jon is put on hobbles because the other mahouts cannot deal with him. Right now Ngo-Hok/Jon only listens to me.

 

Q: Is there anything else you’d like to tell Carol?

I think she should come again and see Ngo-Hok/Jon for herself.

checking in at ENP

My return flight to Los Angeles leaves from Bangkok, which was the perfect excuse to go back to Elephant Nature Park one more time to see the progress made by Chang Yim and Karl.

Yim never ceases to impress me. He has made yet another transition from Karl to his new mahout, Lai. Karl has worked diligently over the past many weeks training Lai, and Yim has been a real trouper. There is no doubt in my mind that Chang Yim will miss the special relationship between him and Karl, but Yim has a bigger mission. He has the opportunity to teach a “traditional” mahout a different way, a more humane and gentler way to manage him and his family members. This move from Karl to Lai is actually quite monumental in the big picture…Yim is the catalyst for change. I am so proud to know him.

In addition to satisfying my curiosity about Yim’s progress, my return to ENP was to give Karl some pointers on training the elephants to place their leg on the trimming stool recently built for back foot trims. Once the elephants are trained, I will be able to return and finish the foot care clinic I started.

Mae Tee and Mae Kham Geao were our first students. The initial hurdle was getting the ladies to start thinking for themselves, no easy task for elephants who for decades had been conditioned not to think. The training was slow and at times appeared to be at a standstill, but, I could see the wheels slowly beginning to turn in their heads. Patience was the key.

After two days, my time at the park was up. Karl was well on his way to conditioning Mae Tee and Mae Kham Geao to voluntarily lift their back legs, a requirement in order to slide a trimming stood underneath for support. I felt torn leaving—I always do—but I had confidence that Karl would do just fine.

Today, a little before four, I received a call from Karl. At first I was apprehensive because Faa Mai is experiencing some unidentified health issue. But the news was all good: Faa Mai seems a little better. But the reason Karl had called was not to update me on Faa Mai, it was to tell me that Mae Tee and Mae Kham Geao got it! They were lifting their back legs off the ground and suspending them in the air when asked. The both of them!

What do you bet they talked about it over the past two days? It comes as no surprise that both ladies, dear friends who spend all their time together, figured out what Karl wanted in the same training session. Karl was so pleased, and WOW — what can I say. I am so proud of everyone involved in this work: Karl, Dam (the Maes’ mahout), Jody and Sophie (treat givers) and especially Maes Tee and Kham Geao, the ladies of the hour. I sure wish I could have been there to share in the cheers and congratulations showered on the ladies, but I was there in spirit. Planting the seed and seeing it grow, one World, one elephant at a time — in this case, two elephants at a time!

leaving Elephant’s World and Jon

Sitting in the passenger seat of the bright orange son tough (vehicle), the solo passenger bouncing down the dusty road, I left Elephant’s World. The tornado of emotion swirling inside made me dizzy, happy, sad, thankful, torn, already longing for the family I am leaving behind.

The last three days have been trying. Jon is in detention. He is fighting against the restraints of control being put upon him. Being as respectful as possible, I have made every effort to find common ground with management and the mahouts in order to ensure that Jon receive proper care during this critical time. They are not beating him, nor being overtly cruel, but they are punishing him by tightening the reins of control and reducing his freedom. They are mirroring their forefathers, who taught that disobedience results in punishment, which in this case requires deprivation.

Today was especially hard because I knew I was leaving. I felt I had failed Jon and the mahouts, and struggled for inspiration. I spent time observing the elephants in the morning. We were alone — the mahouts had gone to collect fodder and there were no tourists on grounds. I found myself melting into the elephants’ rhythm. It took no effort to feel their boredom, their thirst and their hunger. Their resignation hung heavy in the air.

In a near meditative state I found myself thinking about the mahouts and their families, living in their simple bamboo huts. Laundry hanging on bamboo rods to dry in the open air. Breathtakingly colorful violets draped from the rickety porch shaded by scraps of shade cloth. I thought about this for a long time. I tried to feel how it would feel to live here, to be here, to know nothing else. Would I yearn for something different? Do they yearn for something else? Or are they content, surrounded by their families and friends and their elephants?

Drawn back to the massive gods chained in front of me, I wondered if my need to help them resulted from an unrealistic personal projection, or could it be that they too recognize the lack of freedom of choice they live with day after day. The peaceful river flowed nearly silent on one side of me, while tethered elephants simply existed on the other. On the river side, life is abundant, rich with texture and color, teaming with bugs, darting birds, the swirling current and the wind. On the other side, a colorless one-dimensional backdrop of dust covered half dead trees rooted in a barren carpet of dehydrated earth devoid of vegetation did nothing to enhance the elephants, who were deep in the escape they have mastered, nearly void of life from being left on chains for nearly every hour of every day. They don’t even sway — they just breathe, hardly existing.

Being kept on chains creates a disconnect that cuts an elephant off from the natural world and, as result, their own nature. They look so out of place. Watching them, I’m sure the elephants know the difference between here and their real home, and they realize that the choice is not theirs. Some rebel, some accept and others go insane. I wonder if the mahouts ever feel this way.

Piza knew I was sad about leaving with Jon still incarcerated. Over the past three days, I asked about Jon’s food, water and chain-free time at every opportunity. Piza was always polite and kind and explained the current plan as best he could.

I had delayed my departure to the very last moment so I could see the elephants in the river one last time. I heard a familiar playful voice call out to Jon and spun around in its direction. I couldn’t believe it — Jon was running full speed ahead, hobbled, with drag chain trailing behind, making a beeline for the river and the other elephants. He was a whirlwind of energy, like a tornado, spinning rapidly while steadily moving forward. Piza had intentionally released Jon for the river, standing a few feet behind, wearing that “I love Jon, too” grim that stretches across his entire face.

I was overjoyed. What a sight Jon was, running FAST, glancing back at Piza every few seconds to make sure he was not being followed too closely. He was ready for this mad dash to the river; he had waited all day for it. My heart burst seeing the look on Jon’s face: he was ecstatic, about to explode with excitement. He did not slow as he approached the river and nearlycreated a tidal wave when he plowed into the water at full speed.

I looked at Piza. He had a cheeky look on his face and I realized that he had allowed Jon to go to the river for me. Piza knows how deeply I want Jon to have some freedom and I am eternally grateful that he created the situation where my last memory of Jon was watching him play with full abandon.

In the river, the scene was “watch out elephants and mahouts-on-elephants, Jon is here!” He flew into the water, eyes intense, wild in anticipation. He ran, hopped, swam and play-charged the other elephants. He literally dove into the water doing a sideways body slam not holding back an ounce of his boundless energy — he was on fire. The mahouts were on guard, but they were happy that Jon was able to experience a moment of fun as well.

Later, speeding down the paved highway toward the Kanchanaburi bus station, I found myself grateful for my time at Elephant’s World even as I pondered the plight of elephants worldwide. Can we help them? Is it possible to give them their lives back? I am optimistic because to fail them is not an option.

Because of this, I know I will go back to Elephant’s World. Not because it is a progressive facility where elephants’ needs are met first and foremost — quite the contrary. I will go back to help Elephant’s World reach these goals. They have good intentions and I believe that in the future EW will be an organization that I will proudly endorse. I will go back to help EW make a better life for Jon, for all of his elephant family and for the mahouts. This is my Kanchanaburi family and I will not forget them.

I am thankful for Jon, Piza and all the mahouts. I am especially thankful for all of you who made my unscheduled stay at Elephant’s World possible by your generous support. My life is enriched daily and today I feel like a billionaire.
Namaste

A fabulous progress report

Please read for yourself how well Chang Yim is doing. Indeed, he is a most amazing individual and credit must be given to Karl as well, because without his depth of understanding and motivation to better his life, Yim’s brillance would be stiffled under a cloak of dominance. Together the two are brillant!

In Karl’s words…….To the irrepressible Chang Yim! For a while now I have had his training sessions divided into pure target training from outside his pen, first thing in the morning, and a more freeform adaptation in the late afternoon, inside his pen. The morning sessions are for reinforcing already learned behaviours and for introducing new ones, and works better at this time as he is sometimes a little edgier in the mornings after a long night cooped up, and itching to get out to run and eat. So far it is working as well, or better really, than I had even hoped, and still the main problem I am facing is keeping everything moving at a pace quick enough to ensure he doesn’t become disinterested. It would really help my cause if he were a little slower on the uptake, like myself, but alas, he is sharp as a tack!! For the morning sessions, his bahaviours include; presenting all feet, front and back and left or right by request, and holding them in place until I release them, and we are currently working on him presenting feet both forwards for nail trimming, (which he has down pat) and tucked up so that the pad is exposed, as well as conditioning him to having them touched all over; presenting and holding in place his ears so that blood can be drawn -soon I will start pricking the vein with something sharp so he becomes used to the sensation of the needle; presenting his side so that he can be brought in line; presenting his tail so that any work around his back end can be done without worry about a tail that will become like a baseball bat when he is older, as well of course in case of any injury to his tail; placing his head at the target and holding in place so he can be held still and brought to where you need him; presenting his shoulder, again for the purpose of positioning; touching the target with his trunk, but he hasn’t quite got to the holding it in place point yet and still sees this as the fun point where he gets to whack the target when he’s feeling like he wants to (for which he doesn’t get the treat of course and he has improved greatly on this). The rest of the behaviours he really has nailed.

And so in the afternoon training we do all these same bahaviours, but in free contact inside the pen, and with two different sized tree stumps for feet presentations. Added to that we do coming to me, stopping in place, backing up until I whistle to stop, opening mouth for teeth examination (and to let him know how his breath smells as he is quite self-conscious about that, but he’d hate me mentioning that), turning, and we are working on grabbing and letting go of objects. For the most part, at these sessions I don’t use the target as he knows what I am asking for now, but I keep it tucked into my training pouch (sidenote: my first training pouch disappeared a couple of days ago, annoyingly, but the replacement has made up for the disappointment as it has a pouch on both sides of the belt making it easier to use either hand, and has slots that the target fits into perfectly allowing me to keep it at hand but out of his reach. Perfect!) and use it as needed which gives a good flow to the whole process. Added to that I have now started to add hand signals to the behaviours already learned, and it seems to be working well. I haven’t yet tried a behaviour with only hand signal and no command – there’s no rush after all – but he is definitely starting to make the connection, and getting him thinking has engaged him more again.

So in all, I couldn’t be happier with how he has been going in that. Frustratingly though, despite requesting otherwise, the mahouts seem to be undertaking their own training, and at the moment it seems that they all want to be Yim’s mahout, constantly stepping in on me, and always trying to get him to “do things” which really convolutes the whole process; but I am resigned to ploughing on and trusting that Yim will be able to make the divide between the two. And it seems that he can. It’s funny, as when I started 4 months ago it seemed not many were wanting to put their hand up to be Yim’s mahout, but now it’s all hands on deck. Although for many of the mahouts outside of the family group it is still a matter of taking cover whenever he gets close; but not so much for good reason anymore. Yim has been, for some time now, on his absolute best behaviour, very calm and responsive. (There is one mahout in the group that he takes every chance to go after, but I agree with him, so I’ll turn a blind eye to that for now). I am almost waiting for the next time he blows up; but he just hasn’t for weeks now -knocking on wood as I type! I had a strange thought the other day that if he doesn’t have an “episode” for a long time then will it be worse when it happens as I wont be expecting it!! What a stupid thought, right? Why can’t it be always like this? I mean, there are still disagreements, but we always seem to reach a decision that we can both live with – or else we just go with mine. (I would insert one of those winking smiley faces here, like this , but this isn’t a text message, so I wont).