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Methods of Training Elephants

Updated on June 16, 2011

Free Contact

The Free Contact method of working with and training elephants is exactly as it sounds. The Trainer or Zoo Keeper works freely with the animal assuming a dominant 'alpha' elephant role.

The keeper must 'know' his elephants and be aware of what they are doing at all times. At the same time he should be keeping a constant check on what is happening around. There is always the potential loud noise or disturbance that may cause the animal(s) to startle.

Although there have been tragic accidents in free contact elephant management this is not the only reason that some zoos are moving away from this method. Too much attention is being taken from the anti-zoo brigade who do not have the remotest understanding of elephant management.

Free Contact Training Video

Protected Contact

I am not a fan of Protected Contact. The only person who gets any degree of protection is the keeper...and even then there are risks.

Within a zoo situation Protected Contact means that the animals are managed from outside of the enclosure. Elephants are very intelligent and can be quickly trained to present various bits of their body for attention. For example the feet can be lifted for cleaning or nail paring.

Sadly there is no true bonding between the animal and his keeper as there is in free contact where the keeper becomes a token dominant elephant.

Protected Contact Training Video

Very Close Contact

Photo by:  http://www.flickr.com/people/travelix/
Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/people/travelix/

A Last Word

I have been in this business a long time. Things have changed and I will be the first to admit that these have included the methods used in training elephants.

Our understanding of training has come on in leaps and bounds. There is no place today for the brute force and ignorance practised by some zoos in the past. It doesn't happen in good zoos today and the sooner it is eliminated wherever elephants are maintained the happier I will be.

Well trained keepers working in free contact is best for both man and animal...in my humble opinion.

Zoo Elephant - Close Contact

Photo by:  http://www.flickr.com/people/carolynwill/
Photo by: http://www.flickr.com/people/carolynwill/

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