Rescued Elephant Undergoes Unique Training: No Ankus or Force Allowed

For Immediate Release:
29 October 2015

Manilal Valliyate; [email protected]
Sachin Bangera; [email protected]

Internationally Renowned Elephant Behaviourist Demonstrates How Positive Reinforcement Works With Elephants in Bannerghatta Biological Park at PETA Workshop Supported by Environment Ministry

New Delhi – History will be made today in New Delhi, as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) India hosts a two-hour presentation by internationally renowned elephant behaviourist Margaret Whittaker 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 discipline and use of ankuses (or bullhooks). At the event, Whittaker will describe 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 rescued by PETA from a life of abuse, was transferred to last year. The session is supported by the Project Elephant division of the Ministry of Environment, Forests and Climate Change (MEF&CC) and TRAFFIC India. It will be attended by officials from the MEF&CC, the Central Zoo Authority, and Haryana and Delhi governments as well as authorities from the New Delhi National Zoological Park and representatives from major wildlife-protection non-governmental organisations in India.

This presentation will describe the humane training that’s being used with Sunder and other elephants at BBP. Sunder had 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 practicing 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 spent the last 10 days training BBP veterinarians and Sunder’s caretakers as part of the second phase of the training.

“Thanks to the Bannerghatta Biological Park’s agreement to transition to the protected-contact method, no elephant at this facility will experience intimidation or abuse”, says PETA India Director of Veterinary Affairs Manilal Valliyate. “Sunder’s tremendous progress, which he was able to make at his own pace, is history in the making.”

As noted by PETA India – whose motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment” – 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, and 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 is known for her work in using positive reinforcement techniques – and never physical violence – to handle elephants. She began her career of 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. The PC system was designed to keep humans safe and improve the welfare of elephants.

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