Elephant’s World was one of the locations where I was fortunate to introduce positive reinforcement target training. I will return there to continue training, and to consult on facility development and elephant training and care.
During my last visit, Elephant’s World owner agreed to the idea of constructing a large fenced-in area so the elephants can be kept off chains. Fundraising is underway and hopefully by the time I return to Thailand in the fall, the fence will be in place.
Ngo-Hok, aka Jon, the young male elephant with whom I worked, has a history of aggression. Personally, I believe he was emotionally scarred by the traditional brutal training he received prior to coming to Elephant’s World. From the first session he responded enthusiastically to positive reinforcement target training. I was at Elephant’s World for only about a week, but during that time Ngo-Hok/Jon excelled at demonstrating to the mahouts that he can learn and will respond favorably, at least to this technique of training.
Unfortunately, the language barrier was a challenge. The mahouts tried to understand what I was telling them but they simply could not. Even though Ngo-Hok/Jon was brilliant during his target training sessions, the mahouts failed to continue the training after I left.
The staff needs further training to grasp the concept and develop the technique of this training which is so foreign to them. I look forward to returning to Elephant’s World to continue the training. This time I will recruit a translator, which is the only way to ensure that the mahouts understand the philosophy and learn the technique.
Following is an interview that an Elephant’s World volunteer did with Piza, Ngo-Hok/Jon’s mahout. The volunteer posed the questions as if I had asked them.
Q: How is Ngo-Hok/Jon doing?
A: He is doing better since the last time you saw him. Sometimes he is stubborn, and then I cannot climb on this back. He is more often around the other elephants, during swimming and eating, but I have to stay close to him because he is playful and annoys the older female.
He is now very close with Rom Sai, the full-grown tusker, like a father and son. He has escaped a couple of times in the last months but he comes back to stay with Rom Sai. When eating together, he likes to take food from the other elephants. Only Rom Sai will allow this. I believe the other elephants will hit him if I am not there.
Last evening I didn’t take him to the forest because he did not let me get on his back earlier in the day — he was stubborn. In this way I am trying to teach him. Also, after he is stubborn he will try to escape when I take him out of the forest. I am trying to teach him that if he obeys and allows me on his back, he will be rewarded with a trip to the forest.
Ngo-Hok/Jon is growing; he is now taller than me. In one month he has gained about 10 kgs. He now weighs close to 800 kgs and eats about 80 kgs a day.
Q: Do you think Ngo-Hok/Jon can stay with the other elephants?
A: He can stay with other elephants. He can stay close to Rom Sai, who will protect him. For now he can stay with the females as well because they are older women and he is still young. But as he gets older and new female elephants come in, it will be a problem.
Q: How do you feel around Ngo-Hok/Jon since he tried to hurt you?
A: I feel better around him now, but have to be careful all the time. After the accident I was a little bit afraid, but not anymore. When I am with him anyone can come close, but if I am not there, people cannot come close. If I have one day off, Jon is put on hobbles because the other mahouts cannot deal with him. Right now Ngo-Hok/Jon only listens to me.
Q: Is there anything else you’d like to tell Carol?
A: I think she should come again and see Ngo-Hok/Jon for herself.