Lucky Kali and Chanchal Kali work with mahouts Sunil and Sanjay as all four learn target training together! Click to watch.
EAI founder and CEO Carol Buckley was in Nepal over the past month to conduct foot trimming workshops and continue Compassionate Elephant Care (CEC) instruction with mahouts at Direct Aid Nepal (DAN)—a chain free facility caring for eight elephants retired from the tourism industry.
The CEC program includes Positive Reinforcement Target Training (PRTT)
which uses rewards, such as a treats and praise, for desired behaviors. PRTT is used to gain an elephant’s voluntary cooperation for medical procedures and foot care. We start with a tool called a “target”
—a flexible pole with a spongy end—to give the elephant a neutral object to focus on. We touch the elephant gently with the target while naming the different body parts such as foot, forehead and ear, followed by a whistle and treat. Elephants quickly connect the whistle with touching the target and, of course, the treat with the whistle. In a very short time, elephants search out the target with the requested body part in order to receive a treat.
CEO Carol Buckley introduced the basics of target training to each elephant as the mahouts observed. Positive reinforcement training is a foreign concept to most mahouts. Considering the reality of their responsibilities where they must walk elephants through the public, and avoid vehicles, farm animals, crops, and children, their rigid belief in their dominance system is understandable. For this reason, observing target training from the very beginning was key to their comprehending how it works. Most importantly, they saw for themselves not only how to use positive reinforcement, but how efficient it is for both them and the elephants.
Within five days, all the mahouts were fully engaged training their own elephants. Two weeks later, elephants voluntarily presented their feet for future trimming, their ears for future blood draws and their forehead just for fun! Samrat Gaj, the youngest and only male in the herd, continues to excel with every new behavior taught, presenting his forehead, ears, front and now back feet when requested.
Thanks to the program DAN has established, mahouts who learned to be more patient with their elephants are experiencing yet another way to improve the welfare of the intelligent creatures in their care.
Many thanks to all our donors who supported this important program!