With the world of elephant welfare seemingly in constant turmoil, it is encouraging to learn when progress is being made. Some elephant programs never seem to move past the philosophy of control, be it under the guise of positive or negative reinforcement. So when an organization makes the effort to transition from dominance to non-dominance, congratulations are in order.
Earlier this year I visited Anantara, a facility located in Northern Thailand. Anantara differs from many other tourist facilities; most notably, they are a five-star resort and do not buy elephants away from their owners. Instead, Anantara leases elephants, keeping the owner/mahout and elephant pair intact, thereby reducing the likelihood of the owner going and purchasing a new elephant. Removing the pair from the streets has the potential to improve their quality of life but, unfortunately, the move alone does not necessarily change the manner in which the mahout manages his elephant.
You can imagine my gratification when I discovered a new YouTube video showing a training wall and mahouts engaged in positive reinforcement training at Anantara. As if this is not fabulous enough, I have learned that the Government Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang sent representatives to Anantara to learn about positive reinforcement training. I could not be more excited about this development.
I knew it would take time for positive reinforcement training to catch on in Asia but never in my wildest dreams did I expect it to happen this quickly. A colleague working with elephants in Thailand stated that it stemmed from what I started there. If this is true, I am externally grateful for being in the right place at the right time with the right intention. The wave of change has begun!