Elephant Care International’s Sauraha Elephant Health Camp has been a well-received service for privately owned elephants living outside Chitwan National Park. ECI’s efforts to gain the trust of the thirty-something private owners, who collectively own nearly 50 elephants, has proven successful. The owners are all participating in this health camp, a testament to ECI’s efforts.
On this second day of the camp, seven elephants showed up for examination. How fortunate I am to be involved. The veterinarians, technicians, mahouts and elephants flowed together in a synchronized dance, collecting throat cultures, nasal drip, blood, urine and fecal samples, body temperature, respiration and pulse. Translators helped bridge the language gap, making the process more efficient.
The elephants, all Kali (female) so far, have responded to the camp individually, and collectively have demonstrated receptivity to the experience. The reality is that most, if not all, of these girls have never before walked onto a portable scale nor provided the many samples requested of them. They have all responded incredibly well.
It did not take long for the mahouts to understand that the ECI team prefers that they practice patience with their elephants. For some, the concept of a gentler approach had never been considered but they responded favorably.
Not surprisingly, the mahouts demonstrated a capacity for innovation when met with the challenge of collecting samples. Some of the younger mahouts responded to sample collection requests with wide eyes and a noncommittal head tilt accompanied by a somewhat nervous giggle.
The more seasoned mahouts listened intently to the translated directions, then immediately set out to accomplish the task. It soon became evident that the more advanced mahouts reveled in flaunting their superior skills. The resulting competition between mahouts proved beneficial. Overall, the elephants are in good shape. None are overweight. The ankus is not used to pull and push the elephant so hook wounds are not an issue.
Living on natural substrate and in an appropriate climate has benefited the elephants greatly. Improving the standard of living for these and other elephants in captivity begins with education and improved health care. The elephants of Sauraha, their owners and mahouts have embarked on a journey destined to change their lives for the better. I am so thankful to be a part of the process.