What is a Caregiver?
Elephant Aid International’s caregiver philosophy is one of mutual trust and respect for captive-held elephants.
A caregiver is sensitive to the needs of the individuals in his or her care. By respecting the animal’s needs and choices, caregivers have the opportunity to be of true service and enrich the animal’s life.
Caregivers do not attempt to dominate elephants or assume a position of power over an individual or within the herd. Success is fueled by the desire that resident elephants view their human caregivers as trusted guardians and valuable members of their extended family.
Communication Goes Both Ways
The single most important means of demonstrating respect for a captive-held elephant’s needs and desires is by paying attention to what s/he communicates, and by taking care to communicate clearly and honestly in return. If an individual is not clear or receptive, the communication will break down. And if the communication is not honest, misunderstanding and distrust will develop, endangering the relationship.
Trust is Earned
Captive-held elephants who act aggressively without obvious provocation or advance warning are labeled sneaky. We disagree. Experience has taught us two things about captive-held elephant aggression:
- An elephant who consciously hides his/her true emotions does so as a survival technique. Fear can make an elephant vulnerable, so s/he hides it.
- Elephants usually exhibit a warning (precursor) of impending aggression. If an elephant’s precursors are consistently ignored, s/he learns to not exhibit them. The lack of precursor is what makes aggression look like a calculated and sneaky action.
Captive-held elephants learn early what is expected of them. In many dominance-based management programs, the elephant learns that the trainer/keeper’s desire supersedes any desire the elephant may have, no matter how compelling it is from the elephant’s point of view.
Traditional trainers and keepers are not typically taught to be attentive to the elephant’s expressed needs; they are accountable only for imposing an institution’s priorities on the elephants in their care. As a result, an elephant may be compliant for days, weeks and even years, and then one day hurt someone. Then the elephant will immediately return to her compliant behavior, reinforcing the belief that this “sneaky” elephant planned it all along and was just waiting for her chance to strike.
Motivated by Fear
An elephant managed in a dominance-based program, with access to the trainer/keeper, can hurt the keeper at any time. Such aggression is often triggered by fear and frustration. When an elephant cannot control his/her fear, s/he reacts in one of three ways: retreat, advance or freeze. In all cases the elephant may quickly return to his/her previous compliant self. But if the causes of his/her fear and frustration are not remedied, s/he may eventually lash out again.
At EAI, elephant welfare is our highest priority. Our goal is to facilitate an environment in which the elephants exercise as much autonomy as possible. We remain vigilant of how our actions and activities affect the elephants in our care, so that we do not create situations that could provoke confrontations between elephants. We do not attempt to control or orchestrate elephant relationships for caregiver convenience or public education. Instead, we aspire to be astute observers, providing healing options and choices.