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.

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.

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

powerful lessons

What I have witnessed over the past 24 hours has been both heart wrenching and illuminating. Change is indeed the only constant we can depend on. Learning seems to come in a consistent formula — two steps forward, one step back and, at other times, giant leaps in either direction. But one thing is for sure: any suggestion that the process of life’s lessons moves in a linier direction is illogical.

Yesterday afternoon as Piza was bringing Jon back from his morning foraging, they met up with another mahout carrying an armful of freshly cut produce. Jon was interested in the food but was told that he could not have it. In an instant, his cooperative attitude flipped to rage.

Piza recognized the flare in Jon’s eye as a signal that he was about to act aggressively toward the other mahout. When Jon moved toward the food, Piza, working upon instinct and his dominance-based training, struck Jon across the leg with the handle of his hook. Jon’s reaction was instantaneous and life threatening: he turned on Piza.

I was not present but was told that Jon first kicked Piza with his front foot and then swung his head, knocking Piza down. What came next was pure instinct on Jon’s part, the wild bull in him still smoldering below the surface. He lunged toward Piza, who was attempting to regain his footing and put distance between him and the outburst. Blinded by his rage, Jon tried to pin him under his tiny tusks. Piza escaped with a few bruises, but no broken bones or internal injury, and a deeper knowledge and respect for Jon’s nature.

This behavior was not new for Jon; in fact, it is why Elephant’s World invited me to come and work with him. Jon arrived at EW only two months ago and no one seemed surprised by this most recent outburst.

With Piza rushed to the hospital for x-rays, the other mahouts were left to secure Jon on his chain. What followed was not the scene I expected. The mahouts worked calmly,systematically, and I must admit, quite humanely. Jon remained defiant, a cover for his fear of what he assumed the mahouts would do to him once he was recaptured. He avoided their attempts to get him to cooperate, which of course made things a little tense.

The mahouts were calm and patient, and watchful for their own safety. Jon was given every opportunity to cooperate but we all understand why he was apprehensive. He is a wild male elephant living in a human’s world facing the greatest challenge thrust on anyone — denying his nature.

The mahouts surrounded Jon. At no time did he fully submit, but he finally resigned himself to the fact that he was outnumbered. The leg shackles he had worn when I first arrived, the long drag chain and nail-tipped bamboo poles, were reinstated. Jon had no choice but to acquiesce. Deep inside I know that Jon is smart enough to figure out his lot in this life, that the best thing he can do for himself is to find his strength in cooperation rather than defiance.

When I asked the mahouts if they felt Jon’s new training had contributed to his aggressive outburst, they said no and appeared genuinely surprised by the suggestion. They spoke of Jon’s actions as an emotional outburst of anger as opposed to a conscious choice simply to be defiant. They clearly saw that Jon had a temper tantrum when he did not get the food he wanted and were completely comfortable recognizing and acknowledging that Jon is an emotional being.

Modern science is slowly accepting what astute mahouts have known for centuries: elephants are highly intelligent and emotional beings. One mahout spoke for the rest when he said that they were happy I was working with them because the elephants seem, in his words, happier.

This morning I waited until the mahouts were off-grounds collecting food for the elephants before going to check on Jon. He did not act particularly emotional. He did not appear fearful, angry or despondent. He was not exhibiting stereotypical behavior, but did appear hungry. Although I do not concur, I do understand that the mahouts’ method of dealing with Jon’s attack includes withholding or reducing food. This method is not limited to Asia; it is used by some elephant trainers in the US today.

For nearly one hour I watched Jon, without focusing too much energy on him. Tears streamed down my face at his fate, wild and captive. I wondered if there is anything we can do to make the injustice of that reality right again. With no safe wild left to elephants, it is up to us to create an alternative, one that protects and respects this species that so many of us are drawn to.

I will admit to being relieved that in the hour I observed Jon he never engaged in stereotypical behavior or acted stressed. He was not angry and did not even display signs of being confused. He was not despondent, he was resigned. And, thankfully, he was relaxed enough to play. A large rope had been wrapped around the tree he was chained to. Jon flipped the rope over his neck and wiggled his head back and forth, tugging on the rope playfully with his ears. I heard a huge sign leave my body; I don’t know how long I had been holding my breath.

As I left Jon, I could not help but ponder the dilemma humans have created for our planet and her inhabitants. Deep in thought, I realized that an EW staff member was waving her arms trying to get my attention. Looking in the direction she was pointing, I saw Jon in the banana plantation, happily reaching for the highest leaf and, with much gusto, tearing it loose and stuffing it into his mouth.

I assumed that Jon had slipped his chain. I decided to try to head him off by getting to the food hut first and loading up on his favorite treat. I felt confident that if I could drop a trail of bananas, I could get him to follow me back to his stable area.

When I got to the hut I was surprised to see Piza casually lounging in one of the flimsy plastic chairs, watching the DVD I had given him of “All Our Girls so Far.” I hesitated for a moment, so pleased he was watching the video of my girls, but realized I must interrupt him with the news of Jon.

With my best body language yet, arms flailing and in ridiculous broken English — yes, broken English. That’s what happens when everyone you talk with speaks broken English. You begin to speak like them! — I told Piza about Jon being loose. He smiled and said it was okay. I thought perhaps Piza had suffered a concussion and didn’t understand what I was saying — that Jon was loose! — but a huge grin spread across his face again, and I understood.

Even though Piza had told me last night that Jon would be kept on chains for up to three days, he had decided that Jon was ready for a degree of freedom. It was then that I remembered that Piza had said Jon would be kept on chains until he was no longer angry. I had seen for myself earlier in the day that Jon was not angry. Piza was true to his word and, as a result, Jon was having a feast in the banana forest.

Once I understood that all was well and Jon was no longer being punished, I turned to thank Piza. When our eyes met I felt deep admiration for this young man. He has such love and respect for Jon. In my heart I know that these two are matched souls, brothers from another time. They are meant to teach each other and the world about what it means to be held captive, because the mahouts are no less captive to the elephants than the elephants are to them. Let’s dream that together Jon and Piza will make a new world for captive elephants.

Jon and Piza

Feb 6
Today we experienced a major breakthrough with Jon’s training…I passed the training target over to Piza.

Oh man, was it hard to stand back and let Piza make mistakes and see Jon struggle with the resulting frustration, but it was time. Jon kept coming towards me, soliciting my interaction, but I had to return him to Piza. It was time for the game to be something the two of them share.

Jon finally accepted the change and fully engaged with Piza. I clearly saw that they will invent their own version of the training game, which will serve them well.

The game is as much about a philosophy as it is about technique. I understand that this type of training will not replace the customary training in Asia, at least not any time soon. But it is a therapy that can help strengthen the trust and bond between mahout and elephant.

I see now that the training game has the power to heal the deep emotional wounds caused by traditional training, which serves to break the elephant’s spirit. Piza’s love and respect for Jon has grown tremendously over the past few days and the trust and respect returned by Jon is obvious in the way he relates to Piza. Their budding relationship is a gift to behold. Jon’s broken heart is healing. Even thought young Piza might not be aware of the depth of what is happening, he is filled with joy and a fatherly pride in Jon.

Good News

Som Boon is fine. Shortly before midnight I set out toward the vet hospital, following the voices that were encouraging Som Boon to walk. It was pitch dark so I felt my way along the dusty road, following the vibrations radiating from an occasional trunk thump mixed with the low rumbling coming from Som Boon.

When I caught up to her I found that her vet, vet tech and mahout were all engaged in encouraging her to keep walking. They were very patient and kind, which I was so pleased to see.

Dr. Samat had given Som Boon a pint of mineral oil via an extra large syringe, an oral remedy to encourage her bowels to imitate normal contracting movement and stimulate her to defecate, and they were all keeping her on her feet and moving.

About the time I arrived, Som Boon appeared to be searching for vegetation along the roadside. That interest led to her eating a couple dozen ripe bananas and passing gas. As you might expect, we complimented her on both functions, laughing at the silliness of telling her what a good girl she was for passing gas. But we knew this to be a good sign, an indication that her gut might be returning to a healthy state.

Som Boon started feeling much better around midnight. After finishing her bananas and being offered water she was tethered for the night under the watchful eye of Dr. Samat, the vet tech and her mahout.

In the morning I learned that Som Boon had defecated during the night. As suspected, she had been suffering from an intestinal blockage, a repeat condition for her. Many elephants in Thailand suffer from this condition, some even dying as result. There are many things that contribute to this condition, including sudden change in food type — banana plant, sugar cane and corn stock — reduced water intake and poorly worn or missing teeth that may result in the fodder not being chewed adequately.

The good news is that Som Boon no longer has an intestinal blockage. From the moment her condition was reported to the vet, her team remained attentive and effective. Very likely their quick action saved her life.

so much going on

Things are moving so fast it is hard to keep track of the daily occurrences. Exciting things are developing at lightning speed: contrary to the normal Thai time, it feels as if we are on a moving sidewalk that has been set to full speed ahead.

Jon is progressing well. He no longer sports that heavy chain around his ankle and Piza has abandoned the long pole with a sharp nail in the end. Their relationship has grown in the short two months they have been together and deepened in the short time I have been here. It is beautiful to see both mahout and elephant relax and enjoy each other’s company. Piza wears a permanent smile, so proud of Jon and their accomplishments together.

Today Piza began playing the training game with Jon. When Piza asked Jon to approach and present his forehead, Jon froze in his tracks. He lowered his head in apprehension at hearing Piza’s voice and my heart sank. I was concerned that Jon would no longer trust me or the game and that in some way I had betrayed a sacred unspoken trust between us. But instinctively I knew that I must assist in the transition from me to Piza and that Jon had to trust that I would continue to protect him.

Piza was great. He didn’t understand a word of what I was saying to him but willingly allowed me to physically direct him so that Jon would relax and participate. It worked, and both Jon and Piza were fabulous. It was so sweet to watch Piza, who broke into cheers of congratulations when Jon presented a foot or ear. Concentration was thrown to the wind as Piza spun around beaming at his fellow mahouts, mimicking my “good boy, good boy.” What a joy!

In record time the two of them were playing like boys, on even ground, neither dominant, neither conscious of how important their time together in the training game would be for their future together.

I have noticed that Piza has softened a little with Jon. He is proud of him and praises him, something that I have never heard mahouts do without instruction. These two are a special team and together they are teaching me a great deal about how positive reinforcement training can enhance the lives of captive elephants and their mahouts in Asia.

After lunch we got a call: a two-year-old female elephant was found street begging. Her owner was arrested and sent to jail overnight; two mahouts would accompany her here to Elephants World, where the court mandates she will stay for one month. Good news, bad news — oh, it is so difficult.

Knowing that Som Kran will be in this place for a month under the supervision of caring people and off the city streets is a good thing, but it is distressing to know that once the 30-day penalty period is served she will return to her owner and her life of street begging. She is such a sweet baby, it is heartbreaking. The problem is that tourists are ignorant to the situation of street begging elephants. Feeding baby elephants brings in big money for owners. The tourists love it and the owners get rich.

I just learned that Som Boon has been moved to the hospital area because she has not deficated in two days, I will finish this entry later, and report back on how she is doing.

Jon’s progress

Jon was well rested for his morning training session. Clearly he had thought about what he wanted to accomplish today. The mahouts sat a short distance from the corral in intense silence. They are all very young and, contrary to my initial concern, are quite open to this new training and me, a foreign woman, instructing them and their elephants.

Jon has figured out that hanging both front legs over the corral no longer gets a reward as it did in the first two sessions. He knows that the reward comes when one or both front feet are on the lower rungs of the corral. What a quick learner he is. The sparkle in his eyes is contagious; he finds much entertainment in the training game.

After the session, Jon’s mahout took him for the ultimate reward: a swim in the river. The swift moving water is deep and refreshing from the looks of his antics. He spent more time under the surface than atop.

I mistakenly assumed that Jon was never allowed in the river without a long drag chain attached to his ankle. But I learned that the tether was for the safety of the tourists. This morning there were no tourists so Jon was rewarded with extra freedom. He had a blast, completely unencumbered. Imagine how fabulous the freedom felt!

Of course, every young boy has to test his limits and Jon is no different, so when he swam to the edge of the wooded observation deck and started to test his strength by pushing on it with his head, Piza, his twenty-one year old mahout told him to leave it alone. If we could hear the lower frequency used by elephants to communicate much of their thoughts and emotions, I am sure we would have heard Jon squeal in glee as he flung his body into the shallows causing a tidal wave when his huge head smacked the surface of the water and disappeared underneath.

Jon played this way alone and unencumbered for several minutes, then emerged without hesitation at the invitation of his mahout, who cleverly presented a freshly cut stock of bananas.

a chance to help another calf in need

The drive from Kanchatanaburi to Elephants World took about 30 minutes, the scenery quickly changing from bustling city to serene country side. I noticed acres upon acres of cultivated elephant grass, the first sign that a plan was underway to ensure that the elephants held in captivity are guaranteed a healthy food supply.

It’s the dry season and the landscape shows it. The countryside is dry and sparsely treed in comparison to Northern Thailand. I made a mental note to ask if the seemingly barren hills that jutt up from the fertile valley floor are naturally treeless or the result of logging. I later learned that the hills are actually covered in bamboo. Since they are presently dormant the bamboo looks like dried brush, but learning that it is dormant bamboo made me see the distant rocky peaks in a much different light — they are mountains of elephant food.

Elephants World is a new project with several rescued elephants ranging from 3.5-year-old Jon to the two ancient wise females affectingly referred to as the old ladies. A most magnificent river runs through the property, the jewel of the place and probably the best reason to create an elephant sanctuary in this location. They do allow visitors and most are Thai’s, who are different from the demanding foreigners who think every elephant was born to be ridden. The Thai’s are rather quiet and reserved in such a public setting. They were happy to sit on a wooden tree house platform on the river’s edge and watch in silence as the elephants enjoyed a lively swim.

While observing, we discuss the center’s plans, dreams and current challenges. The discussion quickly focused on Jon, who is a wild calf who arrived in December after losing his mom. He is quite aggressive. There is concern among the staff about how to manage him humanely. His young mahout has done well with him, but the vet hopes to teach the mahout gentler ways.

It only took about twenty minutes before I heard myself agreeing to come back to train Jon and his mahout and to trim the elephant’s feet as well. My mind was racing a hundred miles an hour because there were so many travel arrangements to change; well, not so many — nothing is ever permanent — and I simply cannot turn down an opportunity to help hands-on, making life better for elephants.

The staff was excited when I said I would be happy to change my plans and return; it truly is my pleasure. We discussed the corral that needed to be constructed. The mahouts were so engaged, conferring with the vet and volunteer coordinator determining exactly where it would be, the size and construction and where the materials would come from. After a bit a discussion the vet turned to me and said that the mahouts will start collecting the supplies tonight and begin to build the corral tomorrow. I was pleasantly surprised because this is not an example of Thai time. It is an example of people seriously interested in improving their elephants’ lives and knowing that things need to be done now. What could I say but, of course, I will change my plans!