important part of Thai culture and the Thai way of life. They are a
traditional symbol of royal power, an
essential feature of Buddhist art and architecture, an a spiritual mentor
for people of all walks of life. In the early part of this century,
elephants roamed freely and in multitude throughout Burma, Thailand, Laos,
Cambodia and Vietnam. Prior to the 18th
century they were the main machine of Southeast Asian war, a Thai king of
the late 17th century having had 20,000 war elephants trained for battle.
Elephants in Thailand have always been a symbol of both power and peace.
They have always performed the most exacting physical tasks. And they have
always been well loved.
of elephants in Thailand today is limited to about 2,600. Most of these are
at various elephant camps around the country where
they learn to work in the forests and mountains and to entertain the
hundreds of thousands of people who go to see them each year, and where they
live, play and reproduce in a setting that is as close to the wild as
present some of the many traditional roles the elephant has played in
Thailand since the days of old Siam. The elephant is acknowledged as having
wide attributes, and perhaps the most obvious is talent. Talent for a
stately presence, for delicate foot movement and agility, for intelligence
on the field of sport, and at the same time a particular gentleness that
makes the elephant not only a highly respected creature of the land but also
one that is appreciated and loved.
Elephant has always been an important symbol of royal power in Thailand. It
originated in ancient India, where the multi headed elephant of the Vedic
god was white and where, in one of the Buddhist Jataka Tales, Vessantara
(Buddha) gave a white state elephant to a drought-stricken people because it
was believed to have the power to bring rain. In Southeast Asian kingdoms,
the white elephant has traditionally represented divine royal power. The
number of white elephants held by a king largely determined his power in the
eyes of regional adversaries, and the white elephant was the featured emblem
of the national flag of Siam until the name of the country was changed to
of elephants in warfare was always of paramount importance in Siam and the
older kingdoms of Southeast Asia. They were the main form of transport to
and from the battlefield, and they constituted the main force of an army.
Serving the same purpose as a horse cavalry in the west, the number of
manned elephants for warfare often determined the ultimate winner of the
war. This feature of War Elephants was most renowned in the 300-year-war
between Burma and Thailand which resulted in Burma's sacking of Ayutthaya in
1767. Today, elephant war tactics are recreated at a number of Thailand's
elephant training centers. Called the "Kraal Paniad", staged battles on
elephant-back are an astounding display of elephants' innate talent and
ability to learn.
Racing is one of many sports the elephants engage in here in Thailand. Races
were actually part of the elephant war training in old Siam, where the
elephants were lined up and on command charged. Today, elephants are taught
the delicate steps and maneuvers of such tactics in order to recreate the
battle scenes of the " Kraal Paniad". These races and accompanying tactics
require the elephant to learn and respond to more than 60 separate commands.
On the signal to take off, the elephants begin a stampede, and this quickly
turns into a rhythmic, flowing ballet on the dust. The elephants are fast
and as they gather momentum the
becomes an elegant performance of step, turn and curve.
have a special talent for sports. They have their own games in the privacy
of the forest and are often very competitive, but they play sports they are
taught too. One of these is a competitive race on an obstacle course, where
each elephant is required to pick up various items along the way, hold these
with his trunk, and return them to the finish line . In one of Thailand's
elephant training centers, the objects are Coke bottles . Another sport the
elephants are taught to play is elephant football. In this game the
elephants toss around a rather large ball,using their trunks and competing
to see who can score the highest. These are fun sports for the elephant and
require a little more thought than their traditional water games of spraying
themselves and others.
Elephant Caravan is a very special trained function of the elephant in
Thailand. A long line of elephants with their packs and their passengers can
travel over any terrain, however steep and treacherous. This was the most
efficient form of land transport in Thailand until the arrival of the
railway and the automobile, and in the jungle and mountain areas today is
still the most desirable and the safest way to go. Elephants in a caravan
have broad wooden seats strapped onto their backs and tied with heavy rope.
Passengers and goods sit on these seats while the mahout, or trainer, rests
the elephant's neck and guides him a long. An elephant caravan can consist
of any number of elephants, and they all stay together because they like the
company of their own kind.
is one of the elephants' favorite games played with another species, man.
Apparently very fond of competition, and all the more so when pitted against
their trainers, elephants are extremely stubborn when it comes to push and
pull. In Tug-'o-War, they demonstrate their true physical power in a way
that leaves no one in doubt. It takes more than 70 men to bring one elephant
to a draw in a Tug-o'-War contest. Some of Thailand's training centers stage
the same competition with men on horseback, and in this case one elephant
requires six or seven competitors to give him a real battle.
A Trek is
something most of us think of as a walk or a hike on foot, and while
is true many of northern Thailand's treks include at least part of the
journey by elephant. This is similar to the caravan, and trekkers always
find the ride on those wooden seats a bit more physically demanding than
they thought possible. But the experience is one of a kind. The elephants
travel dense jungle area on a trek. They climb steep hills of mud and earth,
traverse ledges between tree lines and
hillside drops, and all the while sway back and forth in their efforts to
maintain balance. Seldom will an elephant become afraid in terrain like
this. What will scare him is a car, a truck, or a helicopter overhead, but
not the jungle. All you have to do is hold on to your seat. It's fun.
like people, place a high value on friendship. In any elephant group the
elephants tend to pair up and stay very close together with their friends.
They have their likes and dislikes, of course, but in a caravan or on a trek
for example, the mahouts have to take special care in lining up the
elephants before departure. They are placed one behind the other so that
friends are together. If an elephant is placed apart from his friend, he
will likely refuse to budge and the caravan will not move. Elephant
friendship becomes most obvious when the female is about ready to give
birth. She searches out her friend and solicits help in delivery.
the friend does willingly, and even helps separate the placenta from the
Dance is a
rare talent but onto the elephants sees to have a certain knack for. They're
intelligent, nimble and have a natural sway to their walk, but most of all
they love music. In Thailand, elephants are trained to perform dance
routines to various numbers in the rock, jazz and folk categories. Their
trainers line them up and when the music begins they receive the command to
start. They sway and prance to the rhythm, trunks swinging, feet keeping
time with the beat, and heads swaying to and fro. When the music changes,
they're steps change with it, perhaps from a fast tempo to a slow,
melancholy waltz. The elephant's preference for music and talent for dance
should not surprise us; music is how the great circuses of the
train their elephants to perform.
the vocation of the majority of Thailand's elephants today. This is the
trade they're taught at the country's various elephant camps and it's a
trade they like. It's a useful economic contribution in the many forested
areas of the country where elephants have proven to be much more efficient
than tractors and cables. Elephants are trained for 20 years before they're
ready to work as full, independent and experienced loggers. At the age of 20
they begin their 35-year career of work, and at 55 or 60 they retire. During
the working day, they have their regular work hours, their lunch hour, and
their rest periods. The ease with which an elephant can pick up a log and
move it almost anywhere demonstrates how powerful this creature is. You can
view this and the many other talents of the elephant at any of Thailand's
elephant training centers.
Elephants at Work
THAILAND and animals at the same time and thoughts will probably turn to
elephants. Well-trained elephants with brave and daring mahouts were crucial
to the felling of teak forests around Chiangmai and in the North in the
past. Visitors to Chiangmai can watch logging elephants at work at the
elephant camp in the nearby Mae Taman's Elephant Conservation Camp, or more
adventuresome visitors can visit the Center for Training Baby Elephants near
the city of Lampang. Elephant riding has also become a popular and common
feature of Hilltribe trekking throughout the North.
elephant can reach a height of over three meters at the shoulder and is
remarkable for its intelligence and longevity. Scientists rate an elephant's
intelligence on a par with that of whales and dolphins, and they have a life
span roughly equal to that of a human being. A Thai working elephant is
considered to come into its prime at age twenty and is expected to have a
further working life of approximately thirty five years, with retirement at
A man who
wishes to be a mahout must master a number of skills involved with his
elephant's work, such as knowledge of a proper diet, complex knot tying, the
fabrication of various kinds of tack for his elephant, and the like. His
primary task, however, it to learn to understand and manage his animal.
past, to become a mahout was like acquiring mastery of artisan skills,
through a long apprenticeship. A would be mahout would join a logging team,
consisting of approximately five to six elephants and fifteen men, in the
teak forests. An apprentice who showed skill in working with the animals
might be promoted to foot mahout, but several more years of learning and
absorbing knowledge from the senior mahouts was needed before the apprentice
mahout graduated to being a neck mahout. The rough logging camps were ideal
learning environments as the range of possible activities was limited to
conversation and work. The apprentice mahout could absorb the wealth of
technical details which were necessary knowledge for handling the elephant
and working in the forest through conversations with the senior mahouts and
watching them in action during the three to five months of uninterrupted
work in the forest.
apprenticeship system produced mahouts who were skilled workers and
controllers of their animals, but that is a thing of the past. Once there
were several small elephant training centers in North Thailand, but in 1969
they were shut down and consolidated at the Center for Training Baby
Elephants, located on a fifteen rai plot of land south of the city of
Lampang. The center was intended to nurture baby elephants an successfully
wean them so their mothers could be returned to work, protect them and
provide them with veterinary care, as well as to train mahouts.
elephant born at the center nurses at first and is gradually weaned to an
elephant's natural diet. At age three it is corralled for a period of seven
days with other babies to wean it from dependence on it's mother. It is then
introduced to its two mahouts and all three begin an arduous seven year
control elephants by three methods; commands given by voice, those given
using an elephant prod, a stick ending in a blunt hook, and by applying
pressure with the feet and legs. The prod might be to tap parts of the
animal's body to indicate the angle of work, the desired direction to move
indicated with the feet, and the action begun with a voice command.
training begins the foot mahout accustoms the animal to the various tack
used in working and applies permanent leg chains which can be used to hobble
it. The first order of training is to teach the elephant to lift either of
its front legs so the mahout can step up to mount it, and to lower its head
to facilitate mounting. This action is taught by prodding the animal's legs
with sharp sticks.
skill taught is for the elephant to pick up objects with its trunk and give
them to the mounted neck mahout. The animal is allowed to eat several pieces
of sugar cane and then a piece with a cord attached is thrown down. When the
elephant moves to eat it, the mahout jerks the cord, elevating the animal's
trunk over the forehead. The action is repeated until the elephant is
habituated to offer objects picked up with its trunk to the mahout before
step in training is to accustom the animal to commands given with pressure
from the feet or legs, used to guide it. Mahouts must shove or tug on the
animals to get them to get them go in the proper direction in the beginning.
But they eventually learn which way to go from pressure applied in the
sensitive area behind their ears. Pressure administered behind the animal's
right ear, for example, indicates the elephant should turn left. Directional
training provides a good example of the closeness of the mahout-elephant
bond. Accustomed to its mahout's voice, odour, and technique of applying
pressure commands, the elephant will refuse to respond to commands given by
a strange mahout.
initial obedience training is complete, the elephant and its mahouts enter
into a four-five year course in log handling and other specialized tasks the
animal is expected to perform. The animal is taught to drag logs on a chain,
beginning with small logs with the size gradually increased. The second
skill introduced is to teach the animal to lower its head and push a log
along the ground with its tusks. It is also trained to lift logs using the
tusks instead of obeying its instinct to lift it with its trunk. A mature
elephant is capable of lifting up to a 400 kg. log with its tusks and
dragging a load of 1.5 tons. Logging training will also include habituating
the animals to noisy machinery, such as saws and trucks, which they might
encounter while working.
train daily for six hours in the morning , ending at noon, with Buddhist
holy days off and a three month vacation in the dry season. Mahouts must
hustle to keep their animals adequately fed. An adult elephant consumes 250
kg. of vegetative matter and 300 litters of water daily.
time the visitor to Chiangmai ooh's and ah's at the elephant show or enjoys
a trek in a swaying howdah, keep in mind the years of arduous training that
gave the elephant and mahout those impressive skills.
Thailand's Extraordinary Elephants
ELEPHANT has been a cultural icon of Thailand since ancient days. Inhabiting
the lush mountain forests long before the rise of the first civilizations in
the land that is now modern-day Thailand, these intelligent pachyderms (as
zoologists insist on calling them) were found apt to domestication by man.
Their great size and enormous strength were harnessed in many ways, and they
became man's ally in labour and warfare. It is doubtful if the abundant teak
trees of the northern woodlands could have been exploited so fully without
these leviathans to haul the trunks (pardon the pun) to the rivers that were
the highways of old. Elephants played their part too in the numerous battles
fought between the armies of Thailand and Burma. Towering over the field of
combat, fully panoplied and girded for war, they must have been an awesome
elephant came to mean much more to the Thai people than a mere beast of
burden. It has become a symbol of fortune, and the superstitious will pay to
pass beneath the animal's body and receive a share of the luck that it
carries. White elephants, through their very scarcity, adopted an importance
of their own, and became the rightful property of the reigning monarch. This
led to the super imposition of a white elephant on the red field of the
national flag of Siam, as Thailand was once known. Early Siamese coins
featured an engraved elephant, and their images can be found in abundance in
the compounds of many of the older temples.
elephant, the species found in Thailand, is renowned for its intelligence
and is known to actively think about its actions, rather than merely
memorise instructions. The creature also has a fine memory and the
expression "An elephant never forgets" entered the English language long
ago. The term "White elephant", meaning something given that is not wanted,
entered western speech many years back, and it is reputed that this
originated in old Siam. It was the custom of the monarch to bestow the
highest praise by giving a royal white elephant to a courtier as a mark of
especial favour, together with a tithe of land to support the animal's needs
of grazing and forage. The same gift could also be given by these shrewd
rulers to show displeasure, as no land would be provided, and the gift that
could not be refused had to be fed at the offender's expense.
the elephant is more fully occupied entertaining the multitude of tourists
who visit Thailand, but its magnificent image lives on, advertising many
modern events or attracting visitors to the numerous shops and factories
that cater to their demands. Welcome to Chiangmai and Chiangrai sent their
roving reporter to interview some of these descendents of the mighty
elephants of old.
Trust me to
pose for an artist from the anti-tusk lobby.
you like, I saw this log first.
colour's great but have you got the shirt in XXL?
paranoid, but what will folk say if they see me wearing a hat like this?
tail-pulling! I want you to separate and come out fighting clean.
This is the
last time we get digitized for a Spielberg movie.
Elephant Art Is Popular
Lampang Elephant Conservation Center managed by the Forest Industry
Organization is under the government Ministry of Agriculture and
Cooperatives. The Center's main concerns are to sustainably conserve Thai
elephants, to protect and to provide them with veterinary care, to support
responsible development of eco-tourism and to take care of auspicious
elephants known as "changpuak" or white elephants. In Tourism circles, the
Thai Elephant Conservation Center received an award from the Tourism
Authority of Thailand (TAT) in 1998. The center has many activities in which
elephants play a part which visitors can watch such as training elephants to
draw and to play musical instruments.
activity at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center was introduced and later
supported by Nancy Abraham, Richard Lair and Alex Meiarmid of a team who
developed the Asian Elephant Art and Conservation Project in New York USA.
Selected elephants have been trained there since 1997 and mahouts are
closely involved with this activity. The drawing instruments are paints
brushes, paper or cloth. Elephants are able to draw because of their
flexible trunks which can clasp a brush that has been dipped into the paint
by the mahout. Then, the elephants paint on the paper or cloth using their
imagination. The colors are selected by the individual mahout. Each picture
that is produced is varied and beautiful. After a while the elephants
quickly paint with confidence. The Thai Elephant Conservation Center has
many intelligent elephants for example Pharatida, Lookkhang, and Lookkup.
Their pictures are very interesting to visitors who are very kind when they
see the paintings and donate money to the elephant artist. Visitors are
thrilled to accept an elephant painting as a priceless souvenir. Besides
paintings being sold at the Center, elephant paintings are shown in
exhibitions attracting many visitors at many important hotels in both
Bangkok and Chiangmai.
and all interested persons wanting to see elephant drawings can drive to the
Thai Elephant Conservation Center located km. 28-29 Lampang - Chiangmai Rd.,
Tambon Wiangtan, Ampur Hangchat in Lampang province. Elephant drawings are
seen after the show of elephants at work and the parade of the adorable baby
elephants. The daily shows can be seen at 10.00 AM and 11.00 AM. On
government and other holidays there is an additional show at 1.30 PM. The
entrance ticket is only 50 Baht.
It is often
said that beauty is in the eye of the beholders as related in a recent
newspaper article about elephants in a European zoo painting fabrics. These
fabrics were then made into women's fashions. There was one art critic who
didn't appreciate the elephant paintings. A five year old girl who must have
been scolded a few times about "staying in line" harrumphed and said of the
elephants' work, "That's not painting -- that's scribbling".
If you want
more details about elephant paintings, please contact
228108, 228034 or Fax. (054) 231150, 228034.
www.thaielephant.com E - mail: [email protected]
Elephants Fall in Love
IN THAILAND have always been a symbol of both power and peace. They have
always performed the most exacting physical tasks. And they have always been
well loved. In fact the Thai have special words regarding their tusked or
tuskless elephants: a male with tusks is called a 'chaang plai'; a male
without tusks (who, incidentally, is usually stronger than his tusked
counterpart) is called a 'chaang seeh daw' and a female is called a 'chang
of a baby elephant is quite a remarkable event at the best of times, but
when the father is 89 years of age and the mother nothing more than a
girlish 8 year old, the occasion becomes even more special. The elephant
mirrors the life patterns of a human more closely than any other living
thing. Its life span is approximately 80 years and its growth rate similar
to that of humans. An eight year old elephant is naughty, mischievous and
often uncontrollable but is certainly not promiscuous, not reaching puberty
until approximately 12 years of age, while an 89 year old male has lost his
teeth, is frail and weak and has lost his sexual ability although it seems,
like humans, he still retains the desires. Plai Aek has indeed lost his
teeth and can no longer chew his natural food of grass and shrubs nor even
enjoy a nibble at his favorite tidbit of sugar cane, instead the zoo staff
have to feed him milled, unpolished rice mixed with calcium, cod liver oil,
coconut and banana, but regarding his sexual ability, READ ON.
love story of Plai Aek began way back in 1991. Plai Aek lived happily with
his wife, Noy, in Chiangmai Zoo but unfortunately, despite a long
relationship and happy marriage, they had remained childless. In the summer
of 1991, a 5 month old orphan elephant was brought to the zoo and adopted by
the loving couple. Sadly, in 1996, Noy passed away at the grand old age of
87, leaving Plai Aek deeply saddened. However, he still had Paang Mai, his
adopted daughter to keep him company.
19, 1998, Paang Mai gave birth to Chai Yo and as the gestation period for
elephants is between 21 and 23 months it does not take a genius to work out
that Paang Mai was just a 6 year old girl when she became pregnant. This
truly remarkable event appears to have established a number of records. At
89, Plai Aek is thought to be the oldest elephant father in the world while
Paang Mai is considered the youngest mother in the elephant kingdom. A third
record is also claimed in that Chai Yo is the first baby elephant to be born
in a Thai zoo.
would like to see this amazing old man, his lovely young wife and their
remarkable baby, pay a visit to Chiangmai Zoo and enjoy a day out with
nature in wonderful, natural surroundings. The location of the Chiangmai Zoo
is on Huay Kaew Road as indicated on the maps within this issue.
Thai National Thai Elephant Day, March 13 2002
It is not
unexpected that most Thai people hold the Elephant in such high esteem and
reverence. When one takes a map and looks at the geographic boundaries of
present day Thailand, it takes little imagination to realize that the
country is shaped like an elephant's head and trunk. The head rests here in
the North, the ears flare back to Esarn in the East and the trunk drapes
down to Haad Yai in the deep South. Thailand is to the elephant as the
elephant is to Thailand connected to each other traditionally, emotionally,
symbolically, regally and Royally.
this most gentle, yet powerful, of animals the National Thai Elephant Day is
being hosted at the Maesa Elephant Camp (10kms along the Mae RimSamoeng
Road) on 13th March. Admission to the Camp (from 12 noon onwards) is FREE so
this will be a day for Thais, and visitors to meet and fall in love (again!)
with that most noble of creatures the Elephant.
Traditionally and historically, the elephant has had a long association with
Thailand. It's strength, power, ponderous dignity and majesty has ensured it
a special place in the hearts of Thai Kings for many centuries. Even today,
H.M. King Bhumibol has a stable of Royal Elephants. A white Elephant is
especially sacred and auspicious. When one is found, it immediately becomes
the property of the reigning Monarch. Long ago, when Thai Kings waged war
against invading enemies, it was the elephant which provided the "heavy" war
equipment. Elephants were the battlewagons and tanks of the day from which,
aloft the elephants neck, the King (or Noble) could see and engage the
recent times during the last century, elephants were engaged in the
extraction of heavy teaklogs from the forests. These were working elephants
and they were sent into forest areas where machines would cause too much
devastation. For all of its ponderous size, and elephant is very surefooted
and surprisingly dainty and swift of step. A mature, working elephant can
readily lift 700kgs weight or haul a towton log for one kilometer without a
break. To have an elephant work in a disciplined fashion requires years of
training. This begins when a baby elephant is 3 years old and sent to school
(a visit to the Young Elephant Training Centre at Haang Chatt District,
experience). The young elephant is introduced to his, or her, "bosses" an
experienced mahout and his apprentice. Both will be bonded with the elephant
for as long as life permits and will be totally responsible for the
elephant's training, future work schedule and career. Not only will they
train and work with their charge, they will also play with their elephant
because elephants love a bit of fun and can be quite mischievous.
with the Thai timber industry in decline, the friendly elephant is seeing
more and more of the millions of visitors who visit Thailand each year. They
have adjusted well to being the centre of tourist admiration they are happy
to take the visitor for a ride a top that massive back or further afield on
a trekking expedition. The elephant is happy to entertain by demonstrating
how it used to work by hauling and stacking logs Elephants are "team" player
in such operation. It is also a team player when a friendly game of soccer
is arranged just see how nimble footed they can be! And, just to show how
unabashed they are in public, the elephant is happy to entertain by taking a
bath in the nude! Like any creature which gives its loyalty and devotion to
humankind, the elephant loves affection and attention and gives the same in
return to those who care for it.
downside, sometimes visitors will see unscrupulous humans exploiting
elephants by making them beg for money in the streets of Chiangmai. Please
do not innocently support such exploitation. It is not only against the laws
of nature, it is against the laws of Thailand! Anyone seeing this
exploitation should protest, in writing, to the Press, the Provincial
Governor, the City Lord Mayor and, indeed, Thailand's Prime Minister Khun
Taksin. These gentlemen have no wish to see elephants exploited by being
forced to beg for money but catching the human culprits is not always easy.
the National Elephant Day on 13th March at Maesa Elephant Camp is to honor,
support and pay respect to this wonderful animal which is so much a part of
Thailand's heritage and culture. At the Maesa Camp, there will be a kantoke
feast for the elephants, traditional blessing ceremonies and Chiangmai
University's Faculty of Veterinary Medicine will be presenting an exhibition
on elephants and a display of those endearing baby elephants.
Elephant Warrior, Royal Pet. Workmate, Transporter and Entertainer a Friend
worthy of the highest regard and respect. Do remember them on March 13 and
try to get along to the Maesa Elephant Camp.
Here is the
Story of Pung Kammee.
by Soraida Salwala, Director
Friends of the Asian Elephant
e-mail: [email protected].
Name : Pung Kammee (Pung means female elephant , Plai is male)
Age : 54
Former Owner : Mr. Putt Kaewtiwong
Present Owner : Friends of the Asian Elephant (FAE)
came to our Elephant Hospital on the 28th of April 1997. I met her one month
after her arrival. I learned from the previous report that she could not
survive, having been abused for so long as a working elephant in the forest
and with the prognosis of having been treated with amphetamines. Her
condition deteriorated and she finally collapsed. We tried to retrieve her
from the coma. It took 6 months for her to revive. The massive wounds on
both her shoulders and all over her body were a sad sight. I could not have
imagined how a person was that cruel to her. We treated the wounds and gave
her vitamins, Anti-parasitics, Catosal, Glucose etc.
1997 Kammee was eating better and gained more weight. I went to visit her
and she cried, wept with big drops of tears from both eyes when I talked to
her. I asked her keeper what happened. He told me that the owner of Kammee
came yesterday and mentioned that since she was gaining back her health he
wanted to sell her. I touched her checks saying, " Kammee, my dear! No one
can hurt you any more. You will stay right here with me and your friends.
Don't cry ".
I was not
there to witness this, I could not believe it. Kammee wept even more. I
calmed her and wiped away the tears. Poor thing ! She knows what is going
on. I fought with the owner through the vet since the owner did not come
when I was at the place. (I go there every month or sometimes
twice,depending on what is happening).
the 22nd of January this year he agreed to sell Kammee to FAE for Bht
80,000.00 Today Pung Kammee is still very nervous. She is scared of noise
and strangers. She can never go back to work again. ( That owner wanted to
sell her to a logger) I would have fought to the death if the man had sold
her to others. I met her a few days ago, although she is still nervous and
there are tears on her face when she sees me, I know they are tears of joy.
She loves me. That's all I know.
for helping us fight for the elephants, please contact FAE on where to send
contributions. Mr. Teerawat Chanabhai, Fundraising Executive ( Special
Thai Elephant --Symbol of Nation
have been revered in Thailand for many centuries. Famous as the strongest
beasts of burden, in Thailand they were important in battle, with kings
mounted on Elephants fighting the Burmese to defend Thailand on many
occasions. They have also been noted for their intelligence, memory and
pleasant nature. A Thai legend has it that a marriage is like an elephant--
the husband is the front legs, that choose the direction, the wife the back
legs, providing the power !
elephant is even included in the flag of the Royal Thai navy, and the "order
of the white elephant" is one of the highest honours, bestowed by the king.
White elephants, in fact, are very rarely completely white. The skin has to
be very pale in certain areas to qualify as a "white elephant"
past, wild elephants were caught and trained. The city of Mae Hong Sorn was
founded as a stockade for newly caught elephants, since that region had a
high elephant population. This century, the number of elephants has declined
so rapidly that the entire domesticated stock are one or more generations
from their wild forebears. There are still a few thousand wild elephant in
northern Thailand, in remote jungle south west of Chiangmai.
Forestry Department uses trained elephants to extract illegal stores of teak
logs, which poachers keep in remote areas where the use of vehicles would be
impossible. Most elephants nowadays, however, are used to carry tourists
around -- probably easier and more pleasant work than dragging heavy logs !
two main species of elephant in the world. The African Elephant --
Loxodonta, which is larger with bigger ears and a less docile nature. The
ears help the animal to lose heat on the sunny open country it inhabits in
Africa. The Indian elephant -- Elephas, is a native of thick forest, so is
smaller, with much smaller ears. There have also been reports of pygmy
elephants in South East Asia, only 1.5 metres tall, but these are probably
extinct. The Indian elephant is 3 metres from the ground to the highest
point of the shoulders (males 50 cm bigger). They weigh about four tons, and
need 250 kgs of food a day, and 60 gallons of water.They are vegetarians,
eating a wide variety of plants. In Thailand, their favourite food is
tamarind, but as anyone who has been to an elephant camp knows, they seem to
love bananas and sugar cane. Both sexes have tusks, although they are far
larger in the male. Some males do not grow tusks, and are supposed to be
is a highly sensitive organ -- capable of very delicate manipulations. I saw
an elephant with an itchy leg pull down the branch of a tree to scratch
itself. This did not quite do the trick, so it put one end of the branch in
its mouth and chewed it a little, then tried again, with better results.
This was a clear example of tool making and using -- which used to be a
definition of 'human'.
wild, elephants stay together in herds of 5 to 20 individuals. There is
always a leader, the strongest male. When threatened, the males, normally
docile, will charge their foes. When families give birth, after a gestation
period of 22-24 months, she goes to a grassy, comfortable spot with a
'friend', who acts as midwife. This friend clears up the afterbirth and
placenta, and keeps mother and baby apart. There are cases of mothers,
confused and exhausted, killing their new- born, if there is no friend to
stop it. There is nothing sadder than a mother elephant who gives birth to a
still born baby. She will stay with the dead body for several days,
grieving. The life expectancy of elephants is in the 70's, and many over 100
years have been reported. The usual cause of death in the wild is the teeth,
which were out, and the elephant dies of slow starvation.
only sleep for three or four hours a day, usually from 11pm to 3am. They
simply lie down, yawning and later snoring just like humans. Only sick
elephants sleep standing up.
calves begin their training when they are about four years old. They quickly
learn and obey the words of command. They get to know their driver (mahout),
and get used to being mounted and dismounted. For the first month they are
kept restrained in a wooden 'crush' while they learn the basics.
learn more complex instructions needed to work with teak logs, including
kneeling, picking things up, dragging, rolling, pushing, carrying etc. By
the age of ten, they are ready for 'graduation', and the work of an adult. A
working elephant can lift 700kg, and haul two tons of wood one kilometre
without a break. Their natural walking speed is about 4km per hour. They
reach their physical peak at 25 years old, and work until they are 60 years
old, then they are retried and set free.
to See and Ride Elephants
several sites which have daily elephant shows. The closest is at Mae Sa,
only 20 kms from Chiangmai. Further afield is Chiang Dao elephant camp,
another 30 kms north. 80kms south of Chiangmai, on the road to Lampang, is
the 'Thai Elephant conservation Centre'. Under Royal patronage, opened by
Queen Sirikit, a large area of replanted teak forest is worked by donated
elephants. The idea is to prove by doing it that elephants make more sense
than vehicles -- they do not damage the surrounding forest so much, they do
not require petrol, and damage the soil far less than vehicles. There is
even a plan to manufacture teak furniture on site in a few years. There is
an excellent show tree times a day. At all the camps, after the show those
interested can enjoy a ride of various duration's through pretty scenery.
There are also several smaller elephant camps, some with shows.
elephants in the north are owned by people of the Karen hill tribe -- in
fact many of the mahouts wear the traditional red shirts of Karen men.
I once fell
off an elephant. Fortunately a very rare event. The beast did not have his
usual mahout, and it was very hot. The elephant simply kneeled down, and I
and my companion simple slid off. no-one was hurt, but it was quite a shock
-- its a long way down!
Elephant Training Center
TIMES is the word "trunk" used in our English language -- main trunk line,
baggage trunk, swimming trunks, telephone trunk call - are but some. There
is even the song "Nellie the Elephant Packed her Trunk and said Good-bye to
the Circus". This article is not so much about Nellie the Elephant, or a
Circus, but about elephants in general and how they are trained so that they
are integrated into everyday part of Thai life.
-- sometime are regarded purely as "beasts of burden" although this is
neither strictly correct nor very kind. True, they can carry or haul heavy
loads but they also can be warriors, royal pets, trekking transporter and
entertainers. It all depends upon their training. So, if you love elephants
(and doesn't just about everyone?) and would like to see something of their
"school", then the Young Elephant Training Center, near Lampang, is a must
Young Elephant Training Center, when an elephant is born, he (or she)
remains with the mother for the first three years of life. By the way, the
gestation period for an elephant is 21-23 months -- our lady readers will
sympathize! Then, in July of the year of the youngster's third birthday,
it's off to school. Just like us human folk, Mom Elephant may not want her
baby to leave, and the little one may be reluctant to attend school. But,
for everyone's benefit, it has to be done. Mom must return to her own work
routine and "baby" must be educated for his future life career.
elephant school semester runs from June until February, the following year,
and the young pupil will attend five days per week. Each school day morning
will see the trainees being rounded up from the forest where they have spent
the night. Lead by their Trainer "Mahouts" they are brought to the river or
pond and, upon the learned order "lie", will drop to a comfortable position
for their grooming. The Mahout will energetically scrub his charge free of
any dust and debris from the forest (the elephant will obligingly spray
water from his trunk) until the "toilette" is complete and then, well
refreshed and breakfasted, our pupil is ready for lessons.
elephant is trained in ten basic subjects for their future working career
(which will last for about 40 years) and to respond to the commands from
their mahout. Kneel, push, pull, move left, move right -and so it goes on.
The mahout is an integral part of the elephant's training, and future
career, because he will remain with his charge until the elephant reaches
"pension" age and is retired back to the forest. Initially, there are two
mahouts with each elephant; one will be an apprentice (also learning!) and
the other will be a journeyman mahout who becomes a lifelong work-partner
and friend to the elephant. As can be imagined, a special empathy develops
between elephant and mahout but it is a slow, gentle and patient process.
Many hours (sometimes days) of gentle persuasion can be spent before the
elephant even permits its mahout to sit astride its neck.
holidays, when the young elephants go back to the forest for relaxation,
interspace the years of steady training. Until, after nine years, our pupil
is no longer a "baby" and is ready for graduation as a fully trained,
leaving the Young Elephant Training Center, the elephants are sent to their
employment in different parts of Thailand. Hauling and extracting logs, from
areas where machines cannot access, is an important aspect of an elephant's
working career, however, it is not the only one. You may see elephants at
work pulling farm equipment or drawing a four-wheeled cart in a rural town.
A mature, working elephant can comfortably lift 700 kilograms weight or haul
two tons of timber for one kilometer without a break. Naturally all this
energy output requires a lot of food input so our former-pupil will now be
demolishing an average of 200 kilograms of food per day and sucking up 120
liters of water with which to wash it down. It's a lot to have on one's
Elephant -Noble Creature -- intelligent, strong, sure footed, dexterous,
hardworking and patient -beloved by so many of us humans around the world.
Even Canada's ex-Premier, Pierre Trade, authored a book, "There's an
Elephant in My Bed" -'though I think he was referring to his gigantic,
neighboring nation rather than anything else!
several Working Elephant Camps around Chiangmai but there is only one Young
Elephant Training Center, in Haang Chaat district, close to Lampang city
where you can see them as young pupils learning about life and their future
career. Go visit them -- it's an endearing and rewarding experience which
you're sure to enjoy.
there: Drive about 70 kilometers south of Chiang Mai towards Lampang is the
Thai Elephant Conservation Center located in Baan Tung Kwien (Thoong Gwian),
Hang Chat District. Here there are two daily morning shows start at 09.30,
and 11.30 with an extra show on Saturday & Sunday 13.30. The famous elephant
hospital is also located here. Tel. (054) 229042.
This site was last updated:
25 January 2007