The goal of target training with elephants is to teach them the names of different body parts so they will present that body part during medical examinations and treatment.
When an elephant participates voluntarily, s/he has no fear and the experience can be positive instead of negative. That’s why we always allow the elephant to choose whether s/he wants to participate in training and treatment, without penalty if s/he chooses not to.
This video shows you how a behavior is shaped. The trainer uses the target (a giant Q-tip) to gently touch the desired body part. The trainer simultaneously says the name of the body part aloud for the elephant to hear, then immediately follows with a whistle or click sound and a treat.
It takes only a few repetitions for the elephant to learn what the trainer wants and to offer that body part when requested. It’s all about autonomy and treats.
In the video, Srijana Kali is learning the word EAR for the first time. Because she was warm, she was already flapping her ears. Taking advantage of her natural movement made the lesson easy, and she quickly understood and began presenting her ear upon request. This particular behavior is especially useful during blood draws and intravenous injections.
Elephants are seriously smart! It’s hard to believe that Srijana Kali was introduced to target training only five days ago. And this session was the first time she was asked for her ear.