Anantara Blogs Elephant Tails

Statement on the Arrival of a Baby Elephant

By John Roberts
4 October 2017 08:18:00

In managing a camp for captive Thai elephants, as we have for the last 14 years, we are almost daily faced with seemingly insurmountable problems.  Balancing the need for these large, intelligent, hungry animals to feed, exercise and live alongside humans within the, comparatively large, area available to us with their needs as wild animals and the hereditary, 3,500 year old human traditions of keeping them is a herculean task.

Accordingly we have long held that uncontrolled, unmanaged breeding to create more captive elephants to face these insurmountable problems in ever constricting space is not a sustainable answer.  We have strict non-breeding policies in place and one of the reasons we never purchase an elephant is that we recognise that to do so drives a market either for breeding or for wild capture.

In January this year we were faced with a dilemma: an elephant who had originally been a street rescue, who had left at the behest of her mahout and returned after he said he wanted to provide a better life for her was diagnosed pregnant.

While acknowledging it may be damaging to our reputation and it is certainly against our philosophy it was determined that it is also against our philosophy to turn out an elephant in need.  With our assembled veterinary & scientific team, forest environment and funding structure that allows mother-to-be to get the right balance of exercise, rest & nutrition without having to be on show to guests it was decided, for the elephant, that we were better placed than any of the alternatives then open to her to handle the pregnancy and birth.

Meena gave birth to a baby male, she being too young and it being her first birth she rejected the baby and turned aggressive towards it.  She was aggressive and confused to the point that only now, four weeks later after hard work by our Veterinary and Target Training Positive Reinforcement team, after lots of help from friends within the veterinary and elephant community, are we reasonably confident that the tide has turned.

Having been through this process we are more convinced than ever that breeding into captivity should be discouraged in the strongest possible terms but feel vindicated in our decision to look after the birth here.  Our unique team of scientific & veterinary experts and our amazing support network undoubtedly made the difference in bringing both mother and baby together at a time when our mahouts’ traditional knowledge did not provide satisfactory answers.

The mahout has signed a contract agreeing to keep mother and baby together on site for the foreseeable future and to follow our instructions that any training performed will be under our instruction and therefore Target Training Positive Reinforcement.  We would have preferred not to have played any part in bringing a baby into captivity but, having taken on the responsibly, we cannot do anything other than do our utmost both for him and his mother and to help him feel loved and part of the family.

We repeat our call to everyone not to purchase elephants for any reason in the current climate in South East Asia.  We see very clearly that the current trend to purchase older, docile, retirement age elephants in order to provide sanctuary-like tourist activities is driving a market to breed.  Suddenly rich selling mahouts replace elephants that they would otherwise have cared for into retirement with young elephants and return to the trekking camps.

More harmfully still: the elephants chosen to be mothers are those in the ‘unprofitable’ age group, too old to be cute babies, too young to work in trekking camps.  Like early teenage humans, pregnancy is possible but is certainly not recommended and is fraught with danger to both mother and baby.

We will look after Meena and son to the best of our abilities and with the fullness of our resources, so please do not feel upset if you see us being proud of a young son growing, but we consider this whole experience living proof, a case study, as to why our campaigns against purchase of elephants and unmanaged, unplanned breeding are more necessary than ever before.

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Elephant Tails Blog

Flirting with charming two-ton beauties and playing with jumbo babies, our Elephant Guru's blog introduces our colourful cast of gentle giants.

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