As part of our commitment to improving the welfare of captive elephants throughout SE Asia, GTAEF introduced ‘Target Training’ to our camp in 2011 with the help of Dr Gerardo Martinez, a world renowned large animal trainer from Africam Safari in Puebla, Mexico. Target training is a type of positive reinforcement training used to train elephants to perform certain tasks such as raising a foot in a purely positive manner; that is with no punishment or negative consequence.
By the use of a purpose built ‘training wall’ target training can be used to train in order to undertake veterinary treatment in a safe and stress free environment for both elephant and vet.
In 2013 we expanded our efforts and conducted Asia’s first annual Target Training workshop in order to show other elephant camps, their vets, mahouts and managers the efficacy of this method. While we are careful not to preach to our guests, who came from a variety of different camps from Thailand, Laos & Cambodia, we hope that, in demonstrating this ‘Western’ method we have allowed these heirs to a 4,000 year Asian tradition to develop a hybrid method that works for the local reality of free contact with elephants.
As a follow up, we also offer ongoing support onsite at the camps to help them implement, improve and refine their technique. We have seen elements of this method adopted into the normal training techniques of three fellow camps and we are working with three others who were already using this technique to develop it further for Asian conditions.
The continuously used and redesigned facility in our camp remains Asia’s only purpose built Target Training wall (with the blueprints available free of charge to any camp with serious intentions to implement the technique) and our programme the only long running, comprehensive ‘train the trainer’ programme focussing on multiple camps.
ELEPHANTS FOR KIDS
GTAEF is involved with many different children’s charities throughout Thailand, under the umbrella of Elephants for Kids, including charities supporting autistic children and ones preventing children from being sold into prostitution. Our sponsorship and work includes:
THE THAI ELEPHANT ASSISTED THERAPY PROJECT:
GTAEF sponsors this project which is run at the Thai Elephant Conservation Centre in Lampang. The Thai Elephant Assisted Therapy Project (TETP) started in 2007 and aims to help Autistic children improve their sensory processing, social skills, postural control and balance, and generally help the children in their daily living activities and adaptive behaviour through an occupational therapy program with Thai Elephants. For more information on the TETP please see: www.tetp.org
ELEPHANT ACTIVITIES FOR UNDER PRIVILEGED THAI CHILDREN:
GTAEF works in conjunction with our sister foundation Think Elephants International to provide free of charge elephant days at our camp. These days include elephant learning activities and games, followed by an elephant riding activity. We provide the children with a fun day out they will never forget and a chance to have a break from their everyday routine. Most of these children have never been in contact with an elephant before and are shy and timid at the start, but leave at the end of the day with a sense of achievement one gets from learning to ride and interact with an elephant. We work will many local charities including orphanages and halfway homes. For details of some of the organisations we work with, please see below:
MAHOUT COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT
We have realised that happy mahouts keep happy elephants and that most of what we initially took to be abuse was bought about by the circumstances of the mahout. We recognised their aspirations for a decent standard of living and set about creating circumstances where we could provide this for our mahouts and their families. By showing that an elephant camp can amply provide their mahouts’ financial and material needs, ensuring they live comfortably, we believe we can encourage other mahouts to demand this of any facility that chooses to keep elephants. We have donated to projects that help them preserve their culture while looking after their charges in elephant friendly circumstances both here in our camp and with contributions to their home village camps in Surin.
Set up in our camp grounds, GTAEF has helped our own mahouts’ wives to set up a silk making enterprise. The wives produce silk by growing silk worms in the mahout village and then extracting the silk from the silk worm cocoon. They then dye and spin the silk and weave this into beautiful scarves which they sell at the Anantara and Four Seasons Boutiques and in the mahout village. All profits from the sales go back directly to the wives.
ELEPHANTS AND MAHOUTS
We have partnered with renowned elephant Photographer Carol Stevenson (www.elephanteditions.com) to record the ancient mahout traditions of the Kui (or Suay) people from whom the majority of our mahouts are made up. The project consists of an ongoing photography project to record our elephants and mahouts as they grow together which will result in a coffee table book. A video interview with the last remain “Mor Chang” or elephant spirit men called Elephant Spirits as well as the only known recording of the “Spirit Language”, a secret language only used when on an elephant catching mission and last used in Thailand in the 1950’s.”
WILD ELEPHANT PROJECTS
Despite all our work with captive elephants we firmly believe that an elephant’s true place is in the wild and have come to the realisation that an Asian forest needs elephants to stay healthy – much as we need forests in order for us to stay healthy. As such we support projects that are determined to keep all wild elephants wild and allow them to thrive in the forests they maintain either by one off donations or through several on-going projects.
THE WILD ELEPHANT COUNT IN KUI BURI ROYAL PROJECT AREA
Kui Buri National Park is a 16,000 hectare area of reclaimed agricultural land located in Prachuap Khiri Khan Province. The Elephant Count is designed to obtain information on the number and demographics of wild elephants in the area. GTAEF contributes both financially and physically with the annual count, as well as contributing to the reforestation of the area by planting 2,000 trees. The wild elephant count is the initiative of Thailand’s Wild Elephant Lover Club and it is through this organisation that we channel our support.
WILD ELEPHANT PROTECTION IN SALAKPHRA WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Working through the Elephant Conservation Network we have supported projects to implement training for National Park Rangers and have subsidised work into the elephant use of different areas of the park – the greater knowledge we have of how elephants use the land available to them the better we can design protected areas. Well designed protected areas aim to allow elephants to be comfortable within their boundaries and refrain from targeting farmers’ crops, something that leads to conflict, deaths and injuries of elephants and humans. We have also funded a study into the suitability of currently unprotected land as an elephant corridor – the report recommended that the land be protected as soon as possible and is currently being considered by the relevant parties.
ELEPHANT CORRIDOR IN THE CAMBODIAN CARDAMOMS
Through local partner Wildlife Alliance we, along with our parent company, Minor International, have committed to the protection of 18,000 hectares of standing forest in the Cambodian Cardamom mountains, this forest forms the only remaining link between elephant territories to the South and to the East while our ‘neighbours’ are economic concessions whose forest has been totally removed and commercial crops planted. In March 2013 our trackers spotted dung and footprints proving that elephants are indeed using this corridor as we had hoped.
ROYAL REINTRODUCTION FOUNDATION
The Royal Reintroduction Foundation under the auspices of Her Majesty the Queen of Thailand undertakes to find scientific and practical methods to release captive elephants into the wild. In 2012 we donated our first street begging rescue, Plai Tawan, to them to help this cause. We get regular updates on all of their elephants from http://elephantreintroduction.blogspot.com