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Dwelling on the Downsides of Dogmatism (blog one of three where we find an upside)

By John Roberts
20 March 2013 08:36:00

I’m a bit of a traditionalist, may even have considered myself a conservative if that were not now a political label and a club requiring vast riches to enter; I tend to believe that if things have been one way for a long while then there must be a good reason for it and that they’re probably better off being left alone.

I guess that could just be an excuse for being lazy.

 ...and anyway, as my more worldly-wise friends back in University replied, if everyone thought like that we’d still have slavery and there’d be no women or poor people voting (& you wouldn’t be allowed into University).

In the following twenty odd years I may have matured a little, I like to think that one thing that sets our little camp and charity apart from the others is our ability to learn from our mistakes, stray from any initial dogma and admit where we went wrong.

However, I’m still a traditionalist in as much as, I feel that if we’re going to stray from the way things have always been done not only ought we have a good reason but we also ought to sit down first with everyone involved and work out the pro’s and con’s with our new idea - mostly we already have dreamt of the pro’s as that’s what we do, are there to be con’s and what are they?  Can we live with them?

This has come into focus over the last month or so and I’ll give a few examples that blundered into our lives to welcome 2013, being a hazy sort of chap I cannot remember the exact chronological order and since they don’t involve our camp, just our moral judgement, I won’t name names so a little chronological haziness may be a good thing.  

This is supposed to be an (elephant) management training session and not a message to anyone in particular.

Firstly, speeding down the superhighway in Chiang Rai town, I spotted an elephant begging by the side of the road - a double-take ensued as we haven’t seen that for a long while - but the anchors were firmly pressed and the big blue mahout mobile came to a screeching halt on the hard shoulder.

I got talking to the mahout, my persona as an innocent stranger, and eventually gave him my card and he said ‘Ahhh Mister John’ - for indeed I am famous - in fact, it turns out that the six year old bull elephant standing before me belonged to the same guy we bought Tawan and Puang Phet off errrr.... six years ago.

Now I’ve already told you how we learned from that mistake, ad nauseam, in these pages so I won’t go there again.  Turns out the owner and his cabal are back in the area, travelling around Thailand in their truck, with four or five young elephants, out on the streets and begging - in the old style we thought we’d seen beaten by the Government crackdown of a couple of years ago.

Worse still (as we found out in our very own Golden Triangle village) they have at least three babies under one year old with them - the very worst of worst practice - hopefully captive bred but no way to tell, taken from their mothers before any chance for proper nutrition or learning to be an elephant.

But this is a lecture about pro’s and con’s.  An unfair example to start with but a good example nonetheless, of how we made decisions, how we started off doing great work in 2006 rescuing elephants from the streets and how, once we realised we were doing damage, we sat down and changed the way we did business, we started renting elephants and not buying them - that six year old bull standing on the edge of a superhighway is the clearest possible example of how we did damage in earlier times and how we made the right decision to take the tricky trail of renting elephants.

While we can't say what sort of life that bull would have lead had we not acted we can say with 95% certainty that the reason he stood before us on the side of a superheated, superhighway in the far North of Thailand is that we bought another elephant from his owner six years ago - gave a street begging mahout money for his elephant.

6 Year Old Begging Bull on the Streets of Chiang Rai

In follow up messages, for I’m a busy boy now, no time for long, verbose rants, I intend to go into situations where we may change our dogmatic approach in the face of current evidence but, for now, the four or five elephants still roaming the streets of the Golden Triangle and the chats with everyone I had down at the CITES meeting convince me that on this one, the renting and the not buying, we got it right.

Below is another bull, less than one year old, currently in the Golden Triangle - at first the mahouts lied about themselves and their situation but, by no coincidence whatsoever, we know some people from the village they claimed to have come from - once they started telling the truth we learned a thing or two more, but not enough to change our dogma, I still have no doubt, had I bought this ele another would have been following him in his fate within weeks if not days.

Given recent press peices, the one that would have followed him may well have been about to enjoy the beginnings of a young life as a wild elephant before we intervened, this we CANNOT do.

Less than one year old bull in the Golden Triangle

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