Elephant abuse in Nepal: Are the mahouts really to blame?

It’s easy to look at an elephant shackled by both front feet to the ground, with open wounds, and blame the mahout.

But I challenge you to learn the facts.

Elephants belong to hotel owners

In Chitwan, Nepal, mahouts do not own elephants. Elephants are the private property of hotel owners, who use them to augment their income by offering elephant back safaris to overnight guests and daytrippers coming to Chitwan in search of fun and adventure.

Elephant back safaris not only provide a bountiful financial benefit for the owner, they are actually the life’s blood of Chitwan.

In Sauraha, Chitwan’s tourist destination, every shopkeeper, restaurant owner, hotel, bar, service provider, wilderness guide, money changer, street vendor and orphanage owe their survival to these elephants. Without elephant safaris, this tourist destination would cease to exist.

Grueling work schedule

All day long, 24/7, mahouts and elephants give safari rides in the community forest.

Mahouts train, feed and ready the elephants for the rides. It is a grueling job for both.  Up at 4:30am, the pair sets out on the long trek to the safari loading area as the rising sun lights up the morning sky.

During what is supposed to be a one-hour lunch and rest period, the elephants instead are taken to a riverfront area where tourists mount them to have their photo taken.

Walking back and forth to the safari ride area, tourist bathing area and home stable, while carrying hundreds of pounds of tourists for hours at a time, takes its toll on elephant and mahout alike.

At dusk, and even into the dark of night, elephants can be seen silhouetted against the sky trudging down the paved roads of Chitwan toward their home stable.

Mahouts: Overworked, underpaid and devalued

Elephant owners know nothing about elephants and rely on the mahouts to keep the elephants alive and working without killing tourists. This is a heavy burden to put on overworked, underpaid and devalued employees.

When mahouts “ask for more,” be it food for themselves or the elephants, they are chastised. Many owners view the mahouts as stupid, uneducated and unmotivated and blame them for the elephant’s unsanitary living conditions and poor health.

Yet mahouts are not provided even the most basic supplies to ensure the health and wellbeing of the elephants in their care. Owners fail to supply nutritious food but blame the mahouts for the elephant’s poor health. Stables are rancid cesspools because no provision is made for waste disposal. Many stables don’t even have a source of fresh water. For this, the mahout is unjustly blamed.

A marginalized community

The truth is that the mahouts are a marginalized community. The custom of treating them as poorly as the elephants is woven into the fabric of society and their living conditions are a mirror image of those of the elephants.

Mahouts learn their trade on the job, from senior mahouts. Their lot in life dictates they do as they are told without question. They hit the elephants because they are taught they must in order to ensure the elephant does not kill them.

Still, this does not excuse how the mahouts mistreat the elephants.

Abuse can be eliminated

Through education and culture shifting, elephant abuse can be eliminated.

Demonizing either owners or mahouts is not the solution.

The first step is understanding why the situation exists and accepting the challenge to help move culture forward.

Owners must be held responsible and mahouts educated.

This will result in improved welfare for the elephants in Chitwan.

How we can help

Developing sustainable assistance programs is essential. Live demonstrations, educational resources such as videos and manuals, translators and hands-on assistance are needed to improve mahout knowledge and understanding of new approaches to elephant care.

This is Elephant Aid International’s mission. By providing bi-annual foot trimming; training mahouts and vet techs in the skill of foot trimming; teaching positive reinforcement training philosophy and techniques; and constructing chain-free corrals, we are laying the foundation for positive change.

EAI doesn’t blame the mahouts. We give them the tools necessary to take better care of their elephants. Click here to sponsor a mahout.

Foot Trimming in Bardia, Nepal

I’m back from Bardia. What an adventure!

It was a 10-hour drive through mountains on rough roads. The 19-year-old driver of our rental truck scared the daylights out of all of us with his speeding, passing trucks on blind curves and nearly missing oncoming vehicles. Oh man — it was a stressful ten hours!

But our foot trimming program was a grand success. We had a fabulous trimming team: Dr. Gairhe; Kiran the vet tech; Hira, Kirti Kali’s phanet (head mahout) from the NTNC hattisar; and I.

Our students included Chantelle, our intern; Surajan, a new friend and translator; and the vet tech from Bardia.

In two short days we trimmed the feet of 24 government and privately owned elephants.

Honestly, the condition of the privately owned elephant’s feet was criminal, similar to the privately owned elephants in Chitwan. Their pads were dry, cracked and severely overgrown. The nails were equally as dry and overgrown and many had splits and deep cracks.

I am always shocked to see how poorly the privately owned elephants are kept, especially since they are the breadwinners for their owners.

The good news is that 24 more elephants received pedicures and their mahouts were introduced to foot care. With time things can change for these over-used, abused and neglected elephants…I hope.

A huge thank-you goes out to the trimming team. Without their enthusiasm and hard work we could not have accomplished our goal to provide foot care for elephants in Bardia!

You can make a difference in the life of a captive elephant by supporting our Foot Trimming Program. Thanks for your help.


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


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

December 18, 2012 – E-Newsletter

I am back in Nepal. So much has happened during my first month here!

I accepted a kind offer from the National Trust for Nature Conservation’s Biodiversity Conservation Center to live on-grounds. It was a good decision. There is always something interesting going on, local and foreign students visiting and opportunities to learn about the work of the many conservationists on NTNC-BCC’s staff.

We have already trimmed feet at the two government Centers, NTNC and some private stables, but foot trimming has taken a back seat to other projects for now.

Expanding the chain-free corral in a big way

When I arrived, the first order of business was identifying a location for an additional chain-free corral at NTNC-BCC for Man Kali and her new calf.  After I described my long-term aspirations for NTNC’s elephants, senior staff suggested that we petition to expand our chain-free corral pilot project to include the entire hattisar (elephant compound). I was deliriously happy with the idea that we might be given permission to convert the entire hattisar all at once.

Chitwan National Park’s chief warden and senior veterinarian, the Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation’s ecologist and NTNC’s officer-in-charge explored the idea and unanimously endorsed it. The project is scheduled to begin December 15th.

The funds to build the expanded corral were donated by EAI’s dedicated supporters including a most generous and timely donation from the Harrison Sanford Jackson estate. This donation has come at the perfect time for EAI to make a serious impact on elephant welfare in Nepal with this chain-free hattisar, the first of its kind in the country.


Not only does the chain-free corral expansion mean that all six NTNC-BCC hattisar elephants will never again be shackled, the design enables them to socialize with each other.

Reuniting the family

Knowing the importance of the mother and calf bond, you can imagine how excited I was when Dr. Gairhe, Chitwan National Park’s senior government veterinarian, suggested that the family group at NTNC be allowed to live together in the same corral.

Even though Prakriti Kali and her mother both live in the same hattisar, they have not been allowed to socialize for four years, since Prakriti Kali was formally trained. This practice of separation is traditional, meant to break the mother/calf bond.

But onlookers can see that the bond between Prakriti Kali and her mother is still strong. On occasion when they are relatively close, Prakriti Kali rumbles, her mom responds and Prakriti Kali instantly assumes a posture that the mahouts refer to as “four feet together”: an awkward, stereotypical posture she exhibits when she appears to be soliciting comfort.

Dr. Gaihre’s recommendation and the blessing of PasPat, the mahout supervisor, means that Prakriti Kati will be reunited with her biological mother after four years of separation. She will also meet her baby brother Hem Gaj, for the very first time. Together the three will share a chain-free space designed specifically for them.

Anyone who has witnessed the reunion of Shirley and Jenny

in the award-winning documentary “The Urban Elephant” can imagine what this reunion will look and sound like. Elephant reunions–there is nothing more moving.

And be sure to watch this short video  about our work in Nepal, and hear from Prakriti Kali aka Sweetie Kali’s mahout about the difference a chain-free corral has made in her life.

A life lost to herpes

Shortly after I arrived in Nepal, a two-year-old calf at the Government Breeding Center succumbed to the herpes virus. This insidious disease is relatively new to Nepal but has claimed the lives of many captive-born elephants in the US, where extensive research is being conducted.

The loss of any elephant is heart wrenching, but to lose a baby is particularly difficult. The mahouts were quite obviously grief stricken as they gathered in near-silence to bury one of the youngest members of their family. Incense was burned and prayers given as the mahouts dropped flowers into her grave. One of the young veterinarians in attendance said that the mahouts view the elephant as having personhood status. To them, losing this calf was the same as losing a family member.

Since herpes is a virus, there is no vaccination to guard against it. It appears and kills quickly, usually within days of the first signs (lethargy and dark spots on the tongue). The medication prescribed to help combat the disease has had mixed results and, as I found out, is not available in Nepal. Thankfully, our friends at Wildlife SOS-India came to our rescue.  Dr. Yaduraj spent days locating the volume of drug required. After three shippers refused to ship to Nepal, he found one who was willing. There was one last delay—when the package was returned to Wildlife-SOS for additional address information—then it was finally sent on its way. Our sincerest thanks go to Dr. Yaduraj for his assistance purchasing and shipping the medication to us.

Getting accurate weights in case

 All babies and their mothers at the breeding center were weighed. If any of the babies become ill, Dr. Gaihre will be able to prescribe an accurate dose of medicine.

If treatment is needed, the veterinarian must know the patient’s weight in order to prescribe the accurate dose of medication. It was decided that all the elephants should be weighed in the event another baby is stricken with the virus. There is a scale on-grounds but the elephants needed to be trained to step onto the platform.  They all did great but the calves were especially fabulous. They all took their turn to step onto the platform. None showed a bit of fear; each of them walked confidently across the platform to receive a tasty treat.

Checking tongues

As an added precautionary measure, the babies were also trained for tongue examinations, a simple and painless procedure to detect the disease in its early stages.

The babies were willing participants in the Compassionate Elephant Care training method http://www.elephantaidinternational.org/CEM.php, which uses only positive reinforcement. Within three days all the calves were happily laying their trunk back across their forehead and sticking out their tongue for their reward: a juicy orange slice. With the trunk and tongue in this position mahouts can easily examine the calf’s tongue for abnormalities.

EAI paid for a shipment of medication used to combat herpes and worked with mahouts to show them how to train the babies for tongue examinations.

The mahouts are now checking the babies’ tongues twice a day–once in the morning before going to the forest and then again in the evening when they return. Hopefully the virus will not strike again but, if it does, the mahouts’ vigilance could make all the difference.

Still fighting for Mali

Efforts to move Mali from her solitary existence in a zoo in the Philippines to a sanctuary in Thailand continue. An op ed by Carol comparing Mali’s life to that of Tina, who came to live at The Elephant Sanctuary, appeared this summer in a paper in the Philippines .  Since then, Carol’s op ed has also appeared in Sri Lanka’s Sunday Times  and, most recently, the Bangkok Post

And now we are three

EAI will soon celebrate its third anniversary. It’s hard to believe we have come so far and accomplished so much in such a short period of time.

We have been able to do so much – and have such an impact – because you share our dream and continue to support the important work we do. With so many needy elephants in situations that, at times, are overwhelming, it is essential to know that you are backing our efforts to make life better for captive-held elephants in Asia.

It doesn’t matter if we are building chain-free corrals, teaching mahouts to handle their elephants in a gentler manner, providing pedicures to any elephant in need or stockpiling medicine to treat baby elephants infected with the herpes virus, you are always there to make sure that we are able to provide swift and humane assistance, one elephant at a time.

We cannot do it without you. At a time when elephants are fighting for their very existence across Asia and Africa, you help EAI make a real difference. I know you will remember these hardworking and many times neglected elephants in your year-end giving.

2013 promises to be another year of challenges and change for the better. I look forward to continuing our work together.

Happy Holidays and Namaste,


Monsoon Season is Over – September E-Newsletter

There are more than one hundred elephants awaiting pedicures in India and Nepal. Wow — I can hardly catch my breath at the thought of it!

This is my passion these days — foot trimming. The joy of being at the ground level, literally, of elephant welfare, is thrilling. I know we cannot fix all the problems facing captive elephants in Asia, but foot care is a very immediate and concrete way to improve their lives.

India: Care center plans

I will be in India through October, visiting with colleagues about prospective care center projects (and, of course, trimming elephant feet!). The care center project in Bannerghatta stalled due to property ownership issues and lack of government clearance. Disappointing as it is, we have decided to cancel the Bannerghatta care center project and concentrate on other more promising locations.

This will be my third visit to Guwahati, in India’s north. It is stunningly beautiful elephant country. Unlike my last visit, which was a six-hour whirlwind blur, I will spend several days studying the area proposed for a new care center. I also plan to meet with the chief warden of Assam about a proposed care center in his state.

This will be my second meeting with the warden. My colleague from the Assam Elephant Foundation and I are encouraged by the interest he has shown in this project. In fact, it was the warden’s idea and it is only with his endorsement that the project can move forward.

The last time we met, the warden committed an area of land to the proposed center and agreed to permit the residents of our center to have access to the surrounding forest. This is an exciting start. I will keep you posted as we proceed.

I will make a repeat visit to Wildlife SOS-India, outside New Delhi. This time I will have the opportunity to provide pedicures for all the elephants before heading off to see their new project, a four hundred-acre elephant rescue center under construction in Mathura. I have heard so much about this project—I can’t wait to see it.

Nepal: Pedicures, chain-free yards, waste disposal and retirement center

When I arrive in Nepal in November, I will have my work cut out for me: pedicures for more than one hundred elephants; we hope the construction of several more chain-free yards; development of environmentally sound elephant waste disposal practices; and brainstorming on plans for an elephant retirement center in Sauraha. What a productive time this will be!

Our first candidates for a chain-free yard are Man Kali and her two-month-old baby Hem Gaj. Currently, Man Kali is chained but little Hem Gaj is chain-free, kept with his mom in a wooden corral built by the mahouts.

But the wooden corral won’t hold him in for long!

After watching how Sweetie Kali blossomed in her chain-free yard, the mahouts want the same for her baby brother. They are determined that Hem Gaj will not be put on chains and have asked us to build a yard for him and his mother.

Help us build a yard for Man Kali and Hem Gaj!

Enclosing one acre of land with the power fence required to keep captive elephants in and wild elephants out, costs close to $4,000US. Adding water storage tanks, plumbing and a drinking trough, adds another $2,000US.

Help us remove the heavy chains from Man Kali’s legs and ensure that baby Hem Gaj will never feel the pain of cold steel around his ankles.

Just say yes! I want to contribute $10 / $25 / $50 / $75 / $100 / or other $_____ to build a one-acre, chain-free yard for Man Kali and her two-month old baby, Hem Gaj.

If you prefer to donate by check, please make your check payable to Elephant Aid International and send it to:

Elephant Aid International

P.O. Box 106

Hohenwald, TN 38462


As you might expect, we won’t stop there. As the funds are raised, we will build more yards for more elephants.

We are making great progress in Nepal. The mahouts welcome my return and are engaged in the changes we are making. They have embraced the chain-free yard concept, are excelling at pedicures and want to learn more humane ways of working with their elephants. The future of elephant welfare in Nepal is in their hands.

You make it possible

We have made it this far because we believe in the power of one. Each one of you makes it possible to help one elephant, then another and another.

As I head off to the Far East once again, I am eternally grateful for your continuing support and encouragement. Knowing that you are behind me one hundred percent gives me the determination to forge ahead, helping one elephant at a time, then another and another. It’s working and it’s all thanks to you!

Please follow the progress of our work on my blog and thank you, as always, for your support.



Wildlife SOS – INDIA

During this trip to India I basically sequestered myself in Bannerghatta, singularly focused on the care center project. As my pending departure loomed I realized that I had failed to visit other projects. There really is so much to see—elephant welfare-wise—in India, I was kicking myself for not setting aside time to further my education.

Literally days before my visa was to expire I received an email invitation from Kertick and Geeta of Wildlife SOS to visit their facilities in Agra. True to my nature, I hesitated at first — not because I did not want to visit their bear and elephant facility but because my flight was already booked and I did not want to pay the flight change fee.

Fortunately, my flight from Bangalore to Kathmandu had a plane change in Delhi, the airport I needed to fly into for Wildlife SOS. I was able to postpone the second leg of the flight, giving me almost three days to spend with the Wildlife SOS staff at both their bear and elephant facilities.

The visit would have been perfect if Kertick and Geeta were in the country but they were in California, presenting at the PAWS elephant summit and other venues. In their absence their expert staff took care of all arrangements, which made my visit very comfortable. I hope Geeta, Ketrick and I will meet in the next few weeks, as they plan to come to Nepal to observe my work in Sauraha.

The work Geeta, Kertick and staff have done to rescue and rehabilitate dancing bears is nothing short of miraculous. The facilities are well designed, with expansive yards, spotless night houses and a dedicated and knowledgeable team of caregivers and veterinarians.
I was in the education hut sitting on a couch viewing one of many informative videos about dancing bears and the plight of other Indian wildlife, when something—light as a feather—touched my shoulder. I assumed it was an insect and reached up to gently brush it away without taking my eyes off the screen.

Without a sound or advance warning more than the gentle shoulder tap that I mistook for an insect, something much heavier than an insect, maybe four or five pounds, warm and hairy, jumped onto my head. I froze and whatever-it-was froze. I had no idea what it was. It was completely silent and warm, grasping my hair in what felt like many tiny hands.

Not being able to see what was perched on my head was indeed unnerving, and no one else seemed to be around. I trusted that I would not have been put into this room alone with anything dangerous so I considered my options. Yelling for assistance was out. Reaching up to remove my head ornament seemed risky. And waiting for someone to come to my rescue seemed unrealistic.

My decision was to slowly reach towards my head to see what would happen. The “thing” leapt from my head across the room to a chair and then back to my head again. Her movement was quick but as she was flying through the air getting ready to land on my head again I saw the “thing” was a young capuchin monkey.

Even though I am comfortable with captive wild animals I respect them by keeping my distance because I feel interaction is not in their best interest. But this little creature obviously felt differently. She leap froged from her chair to my head a couple of times and then remained perched on my head. With no staff in sight I realized I would need to deal with this little bundle of curious energy on my own. I was not opposed, I just did not want to do anything wrong, not having been around a primate before.

Gently untangling my hair from her tiny fingers she allowed me to remove her from my head and lower her to the couch. We looked at each other—too cute is all I can say—as she ever so confidently climbed into my lap, took hold of my hand and placed on her belly. There was no misunderstanding this gesture — she wanted a tummy rub.

I admit to being in heaven while at the same time wondering how I could justify having a monkey in my lap. In the end I did not try to justify it, I simply accepted the experience as the gift it was and enjoyed every second she remained in my lap. A few minutes later one of the resident Great Dane rescues showed up, sending her dashing from the room.

Escorted by staff veterinarians we first toured the bear facilities and then drove a short distance to the temporary elephant facility. Set up on five or six acres of land, the elephant facility is a good start for the rescued elephants. The facility is well designed, with stables for shade and nighttime, sand piles to avoid hard surfaces, a steel corral stable for bulls and a circular concrete pool that is the high point of everybody’s day.

It was amusing to watch Rajesh, a beautiful full-grown bull with massive tusks, submerged for hours, gently bobbing around in the pool.

I did a little foot care and target training to give the vets, mahouts and elephants an idea of what was to come in the future. The mahouts have already changed how they work with the elephants to a great degree. The harsh tone and demanding commands are still used but the ankus and infliction of pain are not. I could see the mahouts are being won over to other ways of working with their elephants — it was exciting to see the progress they have already made.

Kartick and Geeta have plans to move the elephants to a very large tract of land. I have decided to accept their invitation to be involved in this project and recommend that you visit their site and support their work for rescued bears and elephants.


Kasara Camp

Today I traveled many kilometers through Chitwan National Park to reach my foot trimming clients. To get there, I hiked to the river’s edge, boarded a small sailing vessel, crossed a river and drove through a magnificent forest, crossing over creeks on what I would call barely-bridges (as opposed to sturdy concrete ones). It was a wonderful adventure!

When I reached the river, the tourists were packed like sardines in their low-rider boats with a boatman steering them lazily down river. Dr. Geare, the head Government veterinarian at Chitwan National Park, Chitra, a vet tech who works with Dr. Geare, and I were ushered onto our private dugout canoe with removable seats (little wooden stools that fold up against the side of the canoe when not in use), which silently glided across the river to the sand bank on the opposite side.

Our driver magically appeared. We climbed into a truck and I must say had a ride of my life. It was only after we picked up several young soldiers hoofing it back to camp that I was able to release my firm grip on the door frame, the only thing keeping me from bouncing out of my seat and hitting head on the roof. The weight of the men in the back gave the truck better traction and kept the back end from bouncing up and down like a trampoline. It was a great ride through a beautiful forest.

Within minutes a wild boar had crossed the road, male peacocks could be seen and heard sounding their calls, a monkey clung to the side of a tree, a couple of deer flashed by and too many muggers (crocs) sunned themselves along the back of a small creek.

Our destination was the Kasara forest camp where four government elephants live. What a shift from Sauraha. Don’t get me wrong — Sauraha is a nice place for the government elephants — but in Kasara the elephants are really living in the forest. If I could only get rid of the chains and hobbles and put up some hot wire fencing, I would really feel as if I was helping them. Okay, one thing at a time — first feet trimming and then more freedom!

Kiran was not with us today, but Chitra also excels at foot trimming. Upon arrival, I found that instead of the three elephants I was expecting there were actually four. Three elephants were scheduled for foot trims which is why they made it on the list, or maybe it was because the fourth elephant actually is unnamed. She is Laxmi Kali’s year-old calf. When I asked her name, a slight hesitation was followed by, “her name is Laxmi’s calf.”

After spending several days trimming the feet of privately owned elephants, I must admit that today really highlighted the differences from those owned by the government. The government mahouts seem to have a much better relationship with their elephants. They do not yell incessantly nor strike their elephants absentmindedly, which is good because Chitra and Dr. Geare had already heard my request for no pit neu. Actually, my request has grown more sophisticated following an impromptu Nepalese lesson I had last night. I was told that no pit neu is nonsensical and that the proper way to get my point across in proper Nepalese is hati lie na pita, which translated means, “do not hit the elephant.”

The foot trimming went smoothly, with the mahouts seeing for the first time how to administer proper foot care. They were very interested and helpful, and each appeared proud when his elephant’s trimming was completed.

Just as we were finishing up with Laxmi Kali, her calf decided that it was time for a drink and let out a boisterous “I’m thirsty!” yell. Mom immediately threw her hind leg in the air to get up, a fair warning to the mahouts that she really needed to respond to her calf. We all laughed, knowing how the babies call the shots. Laxmi jumped to her feet and baby got the drink she was so thirsting for.

Nepal Mobile Pedicure Parlor

Foot trimming with the privately owned elephants started yesterday. Once again Kiran, a veterinary technician working with NTNC and the government in Chitwan National Park, came through, setting up the foot trimming schedule and arranging for the elephants to be at the stable.

Sona Kali laid down to expose feet in dire need of trimming. Her back pads were okay but the nails on all four feet were severely overgrown, decayed and split. The pads of her front feet had deep black tracks of bacteria.

The first difficulty we experienced was the mahout’s failure to respond to Kiran’s direction. At first I thought he was ignoring Kiran and then it seemed he did not understand what Kiran was saying. Araw means stop and, even if you don’t speak Nepalese, a mahout would know that word because they use it with their elephants continually. But when Kiran said “araw,” the mahout kept cutting. Without hesitation, Kiran took the knife and continued the trimming himself. The mahout training was a bit slow at first but when he finally started following Kiran’s directions, it seemed that he could end up being a good foot trimmer.

Kiran’s and my partnership is well established. He starts with the big cutting, shaving down the overgrown nails, and I follow up with digging out the rotten areas, taking off more of the overgrown nail and shaping everything into place. It is a pleasure to work with him, not only because he does a good job but because he takes pride in doing a good job. When I am deep in concentration focused on a problem area Kiran will say, “Carol, please,” which I have come to understand means “move out of the way with that sissy knife and let me cut away more of that excess nail.” I am happy to oblige him because I can save my energy for sculpting.

I must admit that Sona Kali’s feet had me sweating — they were definitely the most overgrown so far. We were able to trim her nails into shape but the thick tracks of bacteria were so deep between the toes of her front feet, it will take several follow-up visits over the next many weeks to bring her feet back to health.

With all that Kiran has done to make this Nepal Mobile Pedicure Parlor a success, I want to raise some funds to show appreciation. There are forty private owned elephant here in Sauraha so we have our work cut out for us, but the effort is worth it: the elephants will have healthier feet and the mahouts will acquire additional skills. The truth is that I could not have provided this service without Kiran’s assistance.

Breeding Center

Kiran, the government veterinary technician, and I finished trimming feet at the Government Breeding Center yesterday.

I was so pleased that things really changed from the first day. I spoke with Kiran about the mahouts hitting the elephants; he was great. Without hesitation, he engaged the mahouts, men he has worked with for many years, and explained why they cannot hit their elephants. From his intonation and body language, I could tell that Kiran took my request very seriously and the phonits (lead mahouts) and mahouts listened intently. . They respect Kiran and followed his direction without hesitation, which was that at no time should they hit the elephants.

When the first nervous elephant laid down, the mahout unconsciously went to strike her instead of allowing her time to lay her arthritic body gently to the ground. The other mahouts and Kiran cried out in unison – “no pit nau” (show respect-don’t hit).
Stopping in mid-swing, you could see that the mahout had not realized he was about to hit his elephant; the action is so ingrained there is no thought associated with it. Like breathing, it is automatic. For the next 90 minutes, the mahouts needed to remind each other only a couple of times, and the reflex to hit was quickly under control.

It was great to see the mahouts monitor each other in an effort to comply with our request. There was even laughter when a mahout would absent mindedly raise his stick and other mahouts would verbally jump all over him. All of the mahouts and phonits got into the act of making sure no elephants were harmed during my time at the center. Joking around with the mahouts and having Kiran present made it possible to create a calm and abuse-free environment. As expected, the elephants relaxed into their pedicures.

The elephants at the breeding center spend the day out in the forest browsing and the nights chained under a shelter. Mothers and calves are allowed to stay together until the calf is around five, and I must say, the center runs quite smoothly.

With a good mix of young and senior phonits and mahouts, we had lots of guys jockeying for a Turn to trim feet. The competition between men and boys did not hurt a bit, and then add to the mix that a woman was doing trimming. By the second day I was able to instruct the mahouts to do the heavy cutting with the cycle knife (which I refuse to touch), leaving me to do my favorite part: intricate trimming and shaping with my prissy exacto blade. At first the guys laughed at my knife but the smiles melted from their faces when they tried to trim with it. They quickly learned that my knife was designed for precision work, not brute strength, and that it takes some time to get a feel for it. In the end, the guys were opting for the girly knife and doing some really fine trimming on their elephants’ feet.

Dr Geare, the head government vet, checked on our progress several times over the past two weeks. He encouraged his staff to learn as much as possible, stating that with proper foot care the center would save money. He said that in the past many elephants developed foot problems requiring drug therapy, antibiotics and anti-inflammatory treatment. He was optimistic that by learning foot trimming skills, the phonits and mahouts could ensure better foot health for their elephants and reduce the need for drug therapy.

Each morning on our way to the breeding center we stopped at a local produce stand to buy a stock of bananas. Kiran was a champ, never complaining about having to taxi me around on his motorcycle. The road to the breeding center is…well…how do I say? — rocky! Potholes are not the concern; it’s all the boulder-size rocks used to make the paved surface. Watch out when you fall…ouch!

We did take a spill, once. Luckily we were driving quite slow, crossing another road, when a baby goat, in hot pursuit of breakfast, darted right under the front tire. Kiran successfully avoided the youngster but spilled the bike as result. I saw it coming and was only concerned that we not hit the goat. The local shopkeepers rushed out to brush the dust from our clothes and make sure we were okay. I craned my neck to see the condition of the goat. She was safe and sound a few feet away, suckling from her mom with her twin sister, unconcerned about the commotion she had created. In Asia animals may be treated differently but they are valuable, more valuable than the motorcycle we rode on. If Kiran had harmed or killed the goat he would have had to reimburse the owners for her value. Needless to say, every precaution is taken to avoid harming someone else’s livestock.

Menaka missed her pedicure appointment

Today I was supposed to give Menaka a pedicure to address two problem areas on her front feet.
I met Menace in India last May. At that time she was living at the Bangalore Zoo, having recently been confiscated by the government from a temple. She was thin, nervous and a bit aggressive, and her feet did not look good.

Menaka no longer lives at the zoo, which is good news. Instead, she resides at the wildlife rehab center run by CUPA, which happens to be next door to the zoo. She is not on exhibit, which suits her well, but still receives the fringe benefits, such as spending the night loose in the forest with the zoo’s related herd of elephants.

When I visited Menaka a few days ago, I didn’t recognize her. She was calm, her weight was good and her feet were on the mend. We set an appointment for today to trim her feet but I just got an unexpected phone call. All of the elephants, including Menaka, had not returned from the forest but instead were hanging out with a herd of wild elephants. Imagine the director of a US zoo receiving such a call from his lead elephant trainer telling him the elephants would not be on exhibit as planned due to their gallivanting with wild cousins.

I could not be happier about the pedicure cancellation. Foot care can be done anytime; hanging out with your wild friends definitely takes precedent!