Porn Dee Kree
THE MAHOUT: A NEW PERSPECTIVE
The word “mahout” derives from the Hindi words mahāut and mahāvat and back to the Sanskrit word mahāmātra ,which literally means “of great measure”. Mahouts are elephant keepers. They usually start as young boys in the family profession. They acquire their knowledge about elephants from their fathers and their grandfathers and in turn, they will hand it down to the next generations. In the past, the bond between a mahout and his elephant was strictly bilateral. Some elephants would even let themselves starve to death in the absence of their human counterpart. Nowadays things are different. Although some mahouts still are personally involved with a single elephant since their childhood -especially those who own the elephant- some others do it as a job and they may take care of different elephants throughout their life.
Despite the deep bond created, mahout's training technique was historically based on punishment. By the use of the bull hook and other cohercitive tools the elephant's will was demolished and the animal would subjugate to its new human owner. Although, many of the elephants you see working in the tourist sector, have probably been trained in a similar way, hopefully, training methods are taking a different direction. A new ethical perspective is on the rise. Training techniques based on positive reinforcement have been developed and are slowly spreading around Thailand.
We want to be part of this change. As responsible elephant caretakers we strongly believe that the bond between an elephant and his mahout should be based on reciprocal love and respect and not on fear and submission.
That is why our mahouts DO NOT use cohercitive tools. However, this is just the first step to make this new gentle approach spread and longlasting across generations. Long-term commitment is necessary.