2 weeks ago, Mario, Sen Jap’s 3 yr old calf, began his training. Mario has been around people all of his life, and has a great relationship with his owner, Manee, who also owns Mario’s mother Sen Jap. Because of this positive relationship, and because of a life spent around people, the training is far less extensive and Mario is much more responsive to commands. Mario, having been guaranteed a life in the forest of Huay Pakoot, doesn’t need to learn the kinds of tricks and commands common in the more touristic camps and trekking companies. He is learning to respond to voice commands to move forward, back, left, right, halt, lift his feet etc – the simplest of commands needed to ensure the safety of the volunteers and people that do interact with him, and to prevent any situation becoming out of control.
During the first few days of training, Manee and Gehduh, the father of one of our mahouts, Galapae, took Mario to the conservation forest near to the river. They carried out an anamist ceremony using the spirit of the river to break the bond of mother and baby.
They then walked him to the village, where Mario spends his nights near Manee’s home. Manee spends his nights sleeping nearby, so that when Mario first wakes he can give him elephant grass or bananas. During the day, between 7am and 4pm, Manee walks Mario through the village and to the river, rewarding him with bananas for responding appropriately to voice commands. Manee has told us that he does not want to hit or use force during the training process.
Inevitably there are some aspects of the training that is difficult to see, for example overnight his movement is restricted by a front leg brace, and the separation from his mother was not a natural one. Despite this, I am positive the process is altogether necessary and the care from his owner and mahout is evident, making it as minimally stressful and the least traumatic as possible. We hope to see Mario back in the forest full time next week.