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

Male Elephants in Captivity

Caring for male elephants in captivity is a challenge at best.

Attempts to provide a quality of life within the parameters dictated by their captivity produce poor results. Their size, natural tendency toward dominance and drive to breed, combined with their innate wildness, is a recipe for disaster in a captive situation.

Males are especially dangerous when they are in musth, a natural biological function when testosterone levels increase. During their annual musth season, captive-held males become too aggressive to approach and stop responding to their mahouts.

EAI respects the true nature of each elephant and would prefer that no elephant live in captivity. But elephants whose lives are forever altered by captivity need our help.

Lambodhar Prasad: In musth, out of water

We were building chain-free corrals when Lambodhar Prasad came into musth. He was unapproachable. His front wrists were chained together, secured to a large wooden timber that was buried 10 feet deep to prevent his escape. He had no shelter from the hot sun, the seasonal storms that pellet him with golf ball-size hail or the frightening earthquake that devastated entire villages in Nepal earlier this month.

And he had no access to water to drink unless the mahouts brought it to him.

Because of his aggressive state, mahouts could not get close enough to Lambodhar Prasad to give him water, which concerned them and made them anxious to find a solution. Their only option was to offer Lambodhar Prasad water in a large metal cooking pot.

Out of trunk’s reach, several mahouts struggled to push the heavy pot close to Lambodhar Prasad with a long bamboo pole. A thick handmade rope was tied to one handle of the pot in order to pull it back, out of Lambohdar Prasad’s reach, after he finished drinking.

But things did not go as planned. Lambodhar Prasad was irritable, not in a mood to cooperate. He grabbed the pot with his trunk and before the mahouts could yank it away, he crushed it under his foot.

The mahouts were out of ideas and had no resources to solve the problem, so they came to EAI for help.

A simple solution

An immediate solution was devised, simple but effective.

EAI volunteers headed to town to buy a replacement cooking pot/water dish. We purchased an electric water pump and water hose and hired a plumber to hook it up to the existing well where the mahouts bathe and wash their cloths and dishes. The Chitwan National Parks Department provided a large water storage tank as a back-up for when the electricity is out, which in Nepal is more often then not.

While the plumber was installing the pump, connecting the water hose and setting up the water tank, the mahouts wasted no time wiring the pump at a nearby building.

There are no inspections required or codes for electric and plumbing work at the hattisar. You just do it!

In a couple of hours our solution was up and running. The mahouts were relieved and excited about the prospect of being able to water Lambodhar Prasad and give him a bathe as well.

Then came the moment to test out the new watering system.

As suggested, the mahouts filled the water pot before maneuvering it in front of Lambodhar Prasad. He was seriously thirsty and drank hurriedly for several minutes. But as he quenched his thirst, his drive for dominance surfaced.

The muscles in his face tightened as he grabbed for the pot in an act of defiance. The mahouts recognized his attitude shift and pulled the pot out of his reach. The pot lived to provide water for another day.

Mahouts know we care

Every effort in Nepal is unnecessarily difficult due to limited or nonexistent resources, expertise and motivation. Generations of mahouts have grown to believe that nothing can or will be done to make their job easier or the lives of the elephants in their care better. They have stopped asking for help, or perhaps they never started.

But now, because you, our supporters, have enabled EAI to offer new resources, options and solutions, the mahouts know that there are people who truly care about them and the welfare of their elephants. They have begun to ask for help. They have begun to believe that when they ask, their concerns will be heard and their need for assistance will be answered.

The most encouraging shift we have observed is that mahouts are beginning to speak up for their elephants. Improvements in elephant welfare can be encouraged from the outside but true sustainability comes from within. The mahouts are the key to improved elephant welfare in Nepal.

EAI is honored to partner with them – and with you, our supporters — in this effort.

Click here to visit Elephant Aid International’s web site

Progress Involves Three Steps Forward and One Step Back

Partnering with people and organizations with shared goals is key to success as a foreign NGO working in Asia.  Since hurry up and wait is a culturally accepted norm, an ample supply of patience and flexibility is required if you hope to have a successful project.

And even the best-laid plans can unravel without a moment’s notice.

But the daily challenges of different language, conflicting cultures and not having a Home Depot to run to for much needed supplies, is what builds character. Serious determination is required.

When I shift from the U.S. to Nepal, I know to reset my internal clock, tone down my aspirations and prepare myself for unexpected changes to my plans. This may be a breeze for some, but it is a serious challenge for me. But by keeping my eye on the prize—improved elephant welfare—I am able to operate outside my comfort zone and learn a different way of being.

The Next Phase of Chain Free Corral Construction 

By the time I stepped off my flight in Kathmandu, the image of my goal was playing in technicolor in my brain, primed for manifesting.

But that is when reality strikes. I recognize that my vision must be shared by my partners for it to become more than a well-thought-out dream.

I am currently working with a fabulous young Australian woman named Chantelle Ridley, whom I hired to organize our Free the Elephant Program volunteers in Nepal.

Chantelle interned with me a year ago and has turned out to be a perfect fit for this job. Her easygoing attitude, combined with excellent people skills and intimate knowledge of Chitwan, has helped make our new volunteer program a smashing success.

Chantelle’s assistance frees me up to concentrate on the bigger picture of our Chain Free Means Pain Free Program work: identifying locations, designing chain-free corrals, managing the fence building crew from India and overseeing the local labor.

Each installation comes with its own unique set of challenges, both situational and logistical.

To ensure a water source for elephant bathing and drinking, most hattisars are built near a river, which means that they flood during monsoon season.

For safety, the mahouts (elephant staff) always want the chain-free corrals to be built directly adjacent to their sleeping quarters.  There is the constant threat of an unscheduled appearance of wild rhinos, man-eating tigers and menacing bull elephants in musth.

In some locations, available space is limited or there is sparse tree cover.

Contaminated soil caused by years of stockpiling and burning elephant manure is a universal issue.

With 31 corrals to our credit in 2014, I was overly confident that the next installation would follow the same successful route.

But I was in for a rude awakening. I immediately realized I would be facing my greatest challenge yet.

Both installations scheduled for this year house multiple elephants–ivory carrying males, females and calves. Like humans, elephants are individuals and even though they share common language and needs, they have unique personalities that must be acknowledged in order to improve their lives.

Upon arrival, my first challenge was to discover that the dense forest promised for 15 corrals was no longer available. Instead, it had been set aside for the local people, a decision that is difficult to argue with.

This left me with a dilemma: build corrals for ivory carrying males that I intuitively know are too small, or build nothing at all.

In Nepal decisions are made by unanimous agreement of the entire group involved. If one stockholder does not agree, the project will not move forward. Opinion was split: the mahouts, head veterinarian and an influential NGO wanted to keep the males on chains, while the chief warden and I wanted to make some degree of improvement and meet our goal of getting the bulls off chains.

After a healthy group discussion, we took a walking tour of the facility. Everyone agreed we would build mini-corrals, to see if they would work.

Optimism is my strong suit, definitely what drives me to believe that elephants in captivity can experience a better, more humane existence. I agreed to reduce the size of the chain-free corrals rather than building none at all.

After working diligently for two weeks to create six chain free corrals, the volunteers, fence crew, local labor, mahouts, chief warden and I were present for the unchaining. What a thrill.

But shortly after dark, after the crowd had dispersed and we were patting ourselves on the back, forty-year-old, mild mannered bull Dipendra Prasad effortlessly and silently removed the back gate of his corral and slipped out into the night.

When his escape was discovered, you could hear a collective exhale of disappointment.

This morning the mahouts returned Dipendra Prasad to the hattisar but only after a massive man hunt to bring him back.

Everyone is now in agreement that there is not enough space in this location for chain-free corrals for adult males. My job now is to get back to the drawing board and come up with solutions. Adult males are always the most challenging individuals to care for in captivity.

If we hope to provide a chain-free life for the mature ivory carrying bulls of Nepal, corrals must be spacious, heavy with trees and natural vegetation and away from human populated areas. Most important, they must be constructed of steel pipe!

But our effort at this location, the Sauraha hattisar, is not a total loss. Three acres of densely forested land has been set aside for a chain-free corral for three females and a young male.

The volunteers and fence crew are constructing the corral as we speak. The corral will be completed and the elephants; Loctundra Kali, Oma Kali, Sundar Mala and Paris Gaj, released from their chains within 7 days.

 

    


 

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.

Five Elephants Freed!

Two years ago, a young captive born elephant broke free from an ancient tradition.

That was Prakriti Kali, the first elephant in Nepal to be released from chains.

Six months later, five more elephants were released from a lifetime in chains.

Mel Kali was the record holder in the herd, having lived in chains for nearly 70 years.

Culture shift continues in Nepal

On April 6th, at 4:30pm, Nepal made history again when all five resident elephants at the government’s Kasara hattisar went chain free!

Six-year-olds Tamor Kali and Himal Gaj were the first to be given their freedom. They wasted no time, finding the best scratching trees and dusting bowl.

Then, a few days later, after all six chain free corrals were completed, Prayan Kali, Laxmi Kali and Khosi Kali dropped the chains of tradition and went free as well.

Transition 

Watching the elephants shed their chains and adapt to the change so effortlessly is breathtaking.

Young and old alike seem instinctively to know what is happening.

In synchronized movement, they revel in a scratching and dusting ritual. Nearly becoming one with the trees, they exfoliate every inch of their robust body. Even the tender skin behind their ears and under their massive legs get the invigorating treatment.

After the exfoliation is complete they follow up with a full-body dusting. In the most graceful slow motion, they fling trunkfuls of dirt under their bellies, on their backs and everywhere in between. This natural spa experience is essential for maintaining healthy skin.

Chained elephants are denied this opportunity.

Become an elephant

For one minute become an elephant. Close your eyes and step inside their skin. Feel the frustration when denied access to trees for scratching and clean dirt for dusting. Now feel the sensation of scratching every tick bite and itch spot until completely satisfied.

More good news to come

The five elephants in Kasara hattisar are just the beginning. When our project is complete, 63 elephants will enter the ranks of the chain-free.

A huge thank-you goes to Kamal Kunwar, chief conservation officer of Chitwan National Park, the hattisar staff and, of course, all who believe in and support this project.

Five freed. Fifty-eight to go!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Progress Report on Chain-Free Corral Project at Kasara Hattisar

The framework for all six chain-free corrals at the Kasara hattisar is in place.

Support and brace posts are concreted. Gateposts mark the entrance to each new corral.

Heart work

Eyeing the progress of this project, my heart pounds. Here it comes, that joyfully intoxicating feeling cursing through my veins.

My eyes transport the image to my heart. My heart responds, sending a warm glow through my body, filling my eyes with tears. My heart swells with the promise of a better life for these elephants.

In this moment I stand in my personal space of pure peace. I caress it. Breathe it in deeply. I don’t attempt to own it, only experience it, knowing the feeling is a gift meant to be experienced not possessed.

Some people meditate, others run, cycle or climb mountains to connect to that place within where they feel most themselves, most centered, most peaceful.

This is the place of autonomy and personal freedom.

Such activity can literally become an addiction, in the best sense of the word.

Watching the chain-free corrals come to life before my eyes is my addiction. Knowing that my actions help reduce the suffering of captive-held elephants brings me great joy! It is heart work, soul fulfilling work. My meditation.

At times the joy is overwhelming and I just have to cry. Seeing elephants gain even a semblance of autonomy moves me to do more. Knowing that we are able to help bring some peace and freedom to their lives drives me.

I may never know any of these elephants personally. But that is not the point of my work. I am not here to expand my elephant family. I am here to better the lives of these elephant.

They know we are helping them. That is good enough for me.

Construction continues

The next step is to string the wire between support posts and hand-build the topes (post protectors).

Each corral is one full acre in size. It is equipped with six strands of wire equaling nearly one mile of wire per corral.

Ditches will be dug to bury the wires that enable each corral to operate independently.

Last, the steel box that contains and protects the energizer and batteries will be installed and wired to the solar panel that powers the system.

A perfect vantage point

From the open-air raised platform that I have claimed for my new office, I survey the work site. What a gift to witness this miracle unfolding right before my eyes.

A humble thanks to Kamal Kunwar, Chitwan National Park chief conservation officer, the entire hattisar staff, our IBEX fence crew and all of you who have contributed to this worthwhile project.

Together we are improving elephant welfare, showing due respect to these wise, kind and self-aware beings who grace our planet and our lives.





 

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.

Chain-Free Hattisar Project

National Trust for Nature Conservation – Biodiversity Conservation Center Chitwan, Nepal

 

REPORT

Project completed Jan 10, 2013

 Department of National Parks and Wildlife Conservation

Jhamak Karki, Chief Warden-Chitwan National Park

Dr. Kamal Gairhe, Senior Wildlife Veterinarian-Chitwan National Park

National Trust for Nature Conservation

Naresh Subedi, Senior Conservation Officer

Chiranjibi Pd. Pokheral, Senior Conservation Officer-Biodiversity Conservation Center

Babu Ram Lamichhane, Conservation Officer-Biodiversity Conservation Center

Dr. Arjun Pandit, Staff Veterinarian- Biodiversity Conservation Center

In collaboration with

Elephant Aid international-USA

Carol Buckley, Founder and CEO


INTRODUCTION

In January 2013, construction was completed on a solar-powered chain-free hattisar at the National Trust for Nature Conservation’s Biodiversity Conservation Center (NTNC-BCC).

This first-of-its-kind pilot project was developed to study the benefits of working elephants in Nepal living chain-free.

Six elephants, ranging from seven months to seventy-plus years, currently live in five interconnected chain-free corrals designed to improve their welfare.

The elephants spend an average of fifteen hours in the hattisar each day. In the past they were hobbled by both front legs, chained under a shelter that prevented natural posturing and healthy physical activity.

Now, living in the chain-free corral, each elephant is free to move at will and engage in natural behavior such as dusting, foraging, sleeping, bathing, walking, playing. In the case of Man Kali and her children, eight-year-old daughter Prakriti Kali and seven-month-old son Hem Gaj, this related family is able to engage in normal social behavior.

Corral construction and operating system

The corral’s operating system is a solar-powered energizer with a double battery back-up. Three hours of sunlight is required to keep the batteries charged for 10 days.

Specifically designed for wildlife, the corral administers a mild shock upon contact. Due to the pulsating current, it is virtual harmless. Being highly sensitive to the clicking sound of the current, most elephants avoid the fence without ever coming into contact with it.

 The chain-free hattisar consists of five interconnected corrals on approximately two-and-one-half acres of open and wooded land.

The corrals stand seven feet tall, constructed of rust-free steel posts and six strands of high tensile wire. Each post is encased in a protective tope.

Each corral has a front, back and side gate for ease of access for cleaning, feeding, moving elephants in and out and providing socialization opportunities.

The energizer and batteries are housed inside the mahout residence; two solar panels that charge the batteries are attached to the roof of the residence.

Each corral is equipped with a cut-off switch enabling independent operation.

This design has proven successful in many areas of Asia to prevent entry by wild bull elephants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All corrals have a custom-made concrete water trough that provides clean water.  Fresh water is stored in an elevated water tank and troughs are filled by gravity feed. 

Healthy trees are an important component of the chain-free corrals, providing shade, browse and a natural scratching surface.

To prevent serious damage to trees from elephant tusking activity, protectors were built around select trees.

GOALS AND OBJECTIVES

·   Reduce or eliminate stereotypical behavior caused by chaining

·   Eliminate low-level long-term stress caused by chaining

·   Increase physical activity

·   Encourage engagement in natural species-specific behavior such as  foraging, dusting, bathing, walking, playing, socializing and exploring

·   Eliminate injuries and bone and joint damage

·   Improve foot health

·   Maintain elephants’ compliance with mahout authority

METHODS

·   Ethogram

·   Husbandry protocol

·   Management protocol

·   Feeding protocol

1.   ETHOGRAM

In order to quantify the effectiveness of the chain-free corral, an ethogram spreadsheet was      created to track a list of natural and stereotypical behaviors, including walking, eating, dusting, playing, exploring, drinking, socializing, sleeping and exhibiting stereotypic behaviors.

2.     HUSBANDRY PROTOCOL

Manure removal and corral cleanliness standards were established to ensure the highest level of hygiene.

3.    MANAGEMENT PROTOCOL

Training and management practices for inside the corral were established to give elephants a sense of freedom and security.

4.    FEEDING PROTOCOL

Changes to traditional feeding practices were established to promote activity and alleviate boredom.

 PROGRESS AND PRELIMINARY RESULTS

Each elephant spends approximately 15 hours each day in the chain-free corrals. The remainder of their time is spent in Chitwan National Park engaged in grass collecting, anti-poaching patrols and conservation work and jungle safaris.

Upon first introduction to the chain-free corrals, each elephant calmly explored the area, foraging, dusting and scratching on trees. Each evening they dig in the soft dirt of the forest, creating a comfortable sleeping spot; none return to the stable area to sleep.

The related family of Man Kali, Prakriti Kali and Hem Gaj are housed together. They bonded immediately when united in the chain-free corral and continue to exhibit healthy elephant behavior, with Prakriti Kali assuming the role of big sister to Hem Gaj.

A survey was conducted to track the behavior of the elephants toward the mahouts and drivers. Mahout compliance has not changed. Each elephant continues to respond favorably to mahouts and drivers—both inside and outside the corral—at the same high level as before being released from chains.

Photographic records are being kept to track foot health and bone and joint conditions.

Collectively, the elephants’ behavior represents a substantial improvement in natural activity and reduction in stress and stereotypical behavior.

CONCLUSION

The goal to eliminate stress from chaining and the resulting stereotypic behavior is realized. Adherence to the new feeding protocol ensures that both Prakriti Kali and Mel Kali do not engage in stereotypic, food anticipatory behavior. Since being introduced into the chain-free corral hattisar, all elephants engage in appropriate, beneficial, species-specific behavior; respond favorably to their mahouts; and appear to be calm and comfortable in their new environment, indications that the project is meeting its goals and objectives.

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,

Carol