PETA and Bihar Forest Department Organise Conference on Humane Elephant Management

For Immediate Release:
8 March 2016

Manilal Valliyate; [email protected]
Shambhavi Tiwari; [email protected]

Internationally Renowned Elephant Behaviourists Demonstrate How Positive Reinforcement Works With Elephants

 Patna – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India and the Bihar Forest Department co-hosted a conference in Patna that included presentations by internationally renowned elephant behaviourists Margaret Whittaker and Gail Laule on the principles of the modern, humane protected-contact (PC) method of captive-elephant management – a method that does away with training via violence and the use of ankuses (or bullhooks). At the event, Whittaker and Laule described the progress that has been made using this system at the Elephant Care Centre in Bannerghatta Biological Park (BBP) in Bangalore. That’s where PETA has been working to help create a state-of-the-art, model elephant-care facility – and where Sunder, the elephant who was rescued by PETA from a life of abuse, was transferred in June 2014. The conference was attended by officials from the states of Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Madhya Pradesh and Tamil Nadu. Authorities from zoos in these states and representatives from major wildlife-protection non-governmental organisations in northeast India also attended.

The presentation described the humane training that’s being used with Sunder and other elephants at BBP. Sunder spent years chained in a dark shed at a temple in Maharashtra and developed a distrust of humans. Now, his life has changed for the better. His new caretakers are learning and practising the principles of the modern, humane PC method of elephant handling, which uses rewards – never violence or punishment – to encourage pachyderms to cooperate with humans. Whittaker and Laule recently spent seven days training BBP veterinarians and Sunder’s caretakers as part of the third phase of the training.

“Thanks to the Bihar Forest Department’s support in organising this conference on protected contact, other captive elephants will hopefully benefit from this system that uses rewards – not intimidation or abuse – to manage animals”, says PETA India Director of Veterinary Affairs Manilal Valliyate. “Sunder’s tremendous progress at BBP, which he was able to make at his own pace, has been history in the making.”

PETA India – whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment” – notes that PC is a carefully conceived, well-researched, humane elephant-management system that has been in use in other countries for nearly two decades. It does not involve physical punishment or restraint, so ropes, chains and ankuses are not used. Instead, a barrier – such as a metal screen, bars or a restraint chute – keeps elephants and humans separated. Handlers do not attempt to assume a position of dominance over the elephant but rather operate from a position of relative equality. Aggressiveness and other kinds of non-compliant behaviour are never punished – they’re simply ignored.

Whittaker and Laule are known for their work in using positive reinforcement techniques – never physical violence – to handle elephants. Whittaker began her career working with animals at the Houston Zoo, where she developed her skills in positive reinforcement training techniques. For the past 20 years, she has been a behavioural consultant for Active Environments, working with zoos and sanctuaries in Asia, Europe, and North and South America, and she is currently the director of elephant programmes at The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Laule, who co-founded Active Environments, developed her skills in positive reinforcement while training marine mammals. She has worked with most species commonly held by zoos, including primates, big cats, hoofstock, bears and many others. She and her partner at Active Environments developed the protected-contact system in 1991, and she has been working with elephants ever since. She has worked for zoos, sanctuaries and rescue centres in Asia, Europe, South America and the US. The PC system was designed to keep humans safe while improving the welfare of elephants.

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