ELEPHANT TRAINING AT
MAETAENG ELEPHANT PARK
Because of the elephant’s incredible capacity for knowledge, understanding, learning and insight, they have proved to be most useful to human beings. It has been supposed that India was the first place in which elephants started to become trained for domestic purposes. However, it is well understood that, while they may give in to training, an elephant is never truly tame. A male elephant in musk is particularly aggressive and difficult to control. For this reason, most elephants that were being trained for domestic use were female. The one exception is that of war; females will run from males, so only males could be used in this environment.
Another ability that indicates superior intellect is elephants’ ability to play and display a sense of humour. Games include throwing a stick at a certain object, passing an object from one animal to another, or squirting water out of the trunk in a fountain. Elephants in zoos have even been seen stealing onlookers’ caps and hiding them in playful teasing.
For whatever purposes elephants are being domesticated, it is important that they are trained from young. When dealing with creatures that possess as high a level of understanding and insight, elephants have proved to be most industrious and helpful to mankind. It is imperative that, in recognising their value and potential, we take the utmost care to protect this most precious resource.¹ (with acknowledgment to www.andrews-elephants.com)
Here at Maetaeng Elephant Park our young elephants are trained in a variety of skills; painting, football and playing musical instruments. Our method of training does not involve cruelty of any description! Nor does it involve the “carrot and stick” method, otherwise known as Paa Jaan.
The young elephant normally commences training at the age of 3 years. The method used is by “reward”. If the elephant does what she is instructed to do correctly, she is rewarded, usually with a few bananas, her favourite food! If she gets it wrong, she is still rewarded but not as generously as for a correct action. Then the instruction is repeated (sometimes the mahout will demonstrate the action required, encouraging the elephant to mimic the action).
Our young elephants are taught to paint by their mahouts, normally from the age of three to four years old. The elephant must show an interest in learning to paint and this is usually recognised by the mahout when, as in the instance of Charlie, he watched other elephants painting and tried to join in!