It is said that elephants talk to one another, mumbling with their
mouths the speech of men.
But to not all is the speech of the beasts audible, but only the men who tame them hear it."
Oppian, Cynegetica, II, 529-555.
Some basic rules:
Elephants are not that easy going kind loving creatures people believe. They are of course not evil either, they simply just follow their biological pattern, shaped by evolution. The secret of becoming a good trainer is to learn this pattern, and be able to apply it on your self, and the elephants you are responsible for.
The number one rule before you try anything, is to have a full established dominance, in the same natural way as elephants are dominated by their group leader. Respect and love in combination. If one part is lacking then some intelligent person nearby, have to sign a life insurance for you. Without confidence you will be unfruitful. Without respect, and total general obedience, the elephant may some day not follow your command even if it gladly will do the trick for someone else, better equipped with positive but strong sense of leadership. To perform openly for public with an elephants that is not under control, is also deliberately risking others health and lives.
But the trainer who knows the exact balance, will always be able to work safely, will seldom be attacked, and will benefit the elephants health, stimulating them in a unnatural environment with limited ways of letting the animals show natural behavior. When an elephant is disobedient, there is seldom a question about the motivation to do the particular trick, it is more often a question about the relationship between the trainer and the animal, a symptom of a situation that some day may end in pain and accidents. A trainer with long experience will be able to identify such a situation within minutes watching an unsuccessful colleague working with an animal who is waiting to get out of control. But laymen and watchers have a tendency to associate a disobedient or aggressive elephant, with the tasks the elephant were expected to perform in the given situation. This leads to general criticism against training, instead of having the clear picture. Whatever people may believe, 99% of bored female captive elephants, will benefit both physically and psychologically from training. Training adult bulls will always be a walk on the razorblade, but may occasionally work successfully. To become a successful trainer is not anything that can be thought out verbally, you have to stick to an experienced trainer for some years and watch and "feel", to learn what is right and what is wrong.
Elephants are dangerous to work with, if you are
not acting right.To act right, is learning how they
act, and follow this system.To behave like an elephant, is the
secret. Forget about human feelings, our definitions about right
or wrong, just follow the easy rules of the elephants. If you do,
its risky, but less dangerous.Walking on a street is also risky,
so what is the difference?
On the street you know about what can happen, what elements may be involved.You may be able to calculate the risks. Inexperienced, or simply said, bad trainers can not calculate the risks, when working. But if you are an experienced trainer you may be able to calculate the risk.
When elephants attack a trainer at the zoo, or at
the circus it is described as "accidents".
In my opinion, there are no accidents. Theres just wrong and right way of working. Like if you are working with cobra snakes, and you become bitten, you have made something wrong. You knew they were poisonous, and you knew they would defend themselves by biting you, so how can you describe that as an accident? -the trainer may have made something the wrong way, simple as that.
Or, the keeper/trainer had to work in a negative situation because of pressure from the employer, not having the possibilty to decide all components in the situation.
Theres to few good trainers around, and difficult to get good staff. New trainers often have to be schooled for many years, and they seldom have the chance to do this in relaxed conditions, there is always a demand they they will be able to work on their own, as fast as possible.
When an accident occurs, animal welfare people often take this an argument against free-contact and dominance training. What they forget with their arguments though, is that the elephant barn/stable, often is full with free contact elephants that didnt attack any keeper. They are trying to make it a general problem, rather than focusing on the problems linked to the specific keeper and specific elephant. Appearently, they manage with success to manipulate people to think in that unlogical way...
The Asian and African elephant EEP species committees and British and Irish Elephant TAG made 2003 a questionaire regarding accidents covering the last 15 years:
- In nearly 50% of accidents, the keeper was working alone
- In nearly 50% of accidents, the keeper had less than three years experience.
- In many cases, the keeper had less than three years experience with the particulair elephant individual.
Training of African vs. Asian elephants:
In the past the Asian elephants were much more
common in captivity than the Africans.
Since 1977, it is difficult to import elephants from Asian countries, and there's a tendency to buy Africans instead, to half the prize as Asians.
Asians will be be slightly easier to work with, sometimes there is a comparison, telling that, Asians are more similar to cold-blooded working horses, and Africans are more like Arabians, faster and more nervous. The difference between individuals and which age they are in, are in fact greater than between the species, though.Today there's different types of way to work with elephants: