Giants of the Monsoon Forest

Giants of the Monsoon Forest

Posted by GTAEF Helping Elephants on Tuesday, July 14, 2020

In our seventh Anantara Hotels Resorts & Spas #ElephantProfessional lecture, Dr. Jacob Shell told the stories of the unusual partnership between humans and Asian elephants in the impassable monsoon forests of Myanmar and India.

People from Asia have been capturing and working with elephants for centuries, if not millennia. Despite the strong inclination to its touristic face in modern day Thailand, elephants once meant something very different to their human companions.

Elephants as diligent workers and sometimes an irreplaceable transportation tool in the forest. Screenshots from Shell’s lecture.

The unusual partnership

Fascinated by the human-elephant relationship, Dr. Shell spent time between the Burmese and Indian monsoonal forests and turned his journey into a book:

A human has never selectively bred elephants. Elephant generations take too long, usually two decades or 10 times longer than a dog’s generation. The specialties a dog breeder achieves over 50 years would take an elephant breeder half a millennium […] how is it possible that elephants, despite never having been selectively bred by humans, have nonetheless proved to be indispensable work partners for humans and the forest? The work can be complex and cognitively demanding. Sometimes the tasks that the elephant perform have incredibly high stake such as rescuing people stranded during a flood. And yet, elephants weren’t selectively bred to do tasks like these and – to appreciate just how extraordinary this outcome is, where the elephants just so happen to be good at these sorts of urgent and complex jobs, it’s helpful to further pursue with an analogy with dogs. Imagine if instead of using the same Bernard as a mountain rescue dog or a Belgian Malinois as a bomb-sniffing dog […] humans instead attempted the same tasks with wolves. That is, with wild animals captured directly out of the natural habitat and then trained for a few years and then this actually worked. It would be remarkable if the wolf did that. And yet, it is in fact the situation with Asian work elephants.

Dr. Jacob Shell in Giants of the Monsoon Forest: Living and Working with Elephants

You can now read about this complex intertwining relationship in full here.

Disclaimer: the views and opinions expressed by the speaker do not necessarily represent Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation.