A Mahout’s Day Out

Indonesia is a country much like ours - elephants are common in the forests here too.

For decades, exploitation of natural resources denuded the forests and harmed the indigenous species of wildlife, but concerted efforts of scientists from the international community helped restore much of the natural balance here. The Mahout Information Exchange Workshop is one such venture.

Feeding time; Photo credit: Vinod Kumar B. Nayak

Sharing their expertise

FOKMAS – Indonesia’s Mahout Communication Forum, in Sumatra, is a union of elephant mahouts formed for the express purpose of fostering conservation of elephants, and their natural habitat as well. This is done in a thorough, scientific manner, so, the government takes the findings of the studies very seriously.

In May 2017, two mahouts from Karnataka got to share their largely traditional expertise on an international platform. Nayaz Pasha of the Dubare Elephant Camp and Vasantha of the Maththigodu Elephant Camp were invited to attend a workshop organized by FOKMAS.  Ms.Mamatha, a wildlife conservationist from Mysore was the force behind this tour.

The young mahouts rose to the occasion and earned the praise and admiration of their peers.

Bandipur to Bandar Lampung! Photo credit: Vinod Kumar B. Nayak

Science versus traditional know-how

The Tegel Yoso camp in the Bandar Lampung region is as big as the Bandipur Tiger Reserve in Karnataka. Here, they learned the communication methods used by Indonesian mahouts with conditioned elephants, to help prevent the destruction of agricultural fields and entry into human habitations by their wild counterparts. The visitors also got hands-on experience in handling techniques.After two days in the forest, the mahouts participated in a workshop at the world-renowned Lemba Hijau Animal Park.

Elephant experts from Germany and the U.S. trained more than fifty mahouts during this program.One of the main topics was the use of ultrasound to determine pregnancy in cow elephants. Nayaz Pasha touched the elephant’s belly and declared that the elephant in question was not pregnant. However, the veterinarian, Dr. Christopher, decided to use a more scientific approach before announcing his findings.

To everyone’s amazement, Nayaz Pasha was right! This was extraordinary for a mahout without any training in veterinary sciences – a fact acknowledged by Dr. Christopher and others present.

Elephants understand all languages. Photo credit: Vinod Kumar B. Nayak

Mahout exchange program

Indonesia’s efforts to preserve wild elephants started in the 80’s, and since 1983, approximately four hundred have been captured and housed in camps.The lack of traditional knowledge among the country’s mahouts is a shortcoming though.

This demonstration of traditional knowledge by the Indian mahouts was an eye-opener for the Indonesians and highlighted their need for training and knowledge-sharing. This has been the biggest impetus for them to reciprocate by sending mahouts to India for further training.

Traditional knowledge, spanning generations, needs to be nurtured by all.

Edited by Dominic D’Cruz