Tag Archives: asian elephant

A Bad Workman Always Blames His Tools


There are elephant-friendly organisations and parks around the world that actively campaign against the use of hooks on elephants.  They claim that the hooks are used to abuse elephants.  I agree with them that hooks are often misused by mahouts who, for whatever reason, do not make the grade of competent elephant carer and must resort to violence.  But to ban them outright?  I must disagree.  According to the “Elephant Care Manual for Mahouts and Camp Managers”, a sort of bible on captive elephant management produced by Richard Lair and veterinarian Taweepoke Angkawanith, both of the Thai Elephant Conservation Center, the hook is the mahouts most important tool.  The second most important tool is the ever practical bush knife.

Here is an excerpt from the manual:

Controlling elephants depends on three interrelated factors: (1) the level of training of the mahout, (2) the tools or equipment used, and (3) the best ways of using the tools. A weakness in any of these areas means that both safety and the elephant’s health are likely to be affected.

As for the quality of training of mahouts, there are disturbing signs that contemporary mahouts are losing many of the skills of the old days. This lack of skills is very likely to in the near future show up as poorer control of bull elephants, most of which are dangerous, at least part of the time. Training is, however, beyond the scope of this book…

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From The Mouths of Mahouts


During a recent trip to Baan Ta Klang elephant village in Surin province, I struck up a conversation with Khun (Mr.) Tiew, mahout to 13 year old female elephant Gam.  K. Tiew, I had heard, does not like to use the hook with Gam.

The village itself is an ancient Kuy (or Suy) settlement.  The Kuy people are traditional wild elephant hunters, capturing and training elephants for war.  The village is part of the Elephant Kingdom Project, a Thai government initiative designed to keep elephants off the streets by providing a modest salary to mahouts who bring their elephants to Baan Ta Klang and participate in shows and riding.  Desperate mahouts often resort to street-begging to earn money from tourists, despite it being illegal in big cities.  You can learn more about the Kuy people in this short NPR report.

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