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.