Elephant working systems informations
In the 5th blog–when Sofie and I went to the Zoo of Rhenen in Holland for a few days to learn more about African elephants–I mentioned the “Protected contact system” and promised to give an elaborate explanation about it.
There are 3 ways to work with elephants.
No contact system:
This means that the staff and the elephants have no contact, thus there is no training involved.
Free Contact system:
Free Contact is considered to be a traditional method of training which evolved from elephant management techniques used with the Asian species for about the past 5,000 years. The Handler and the elephant share the same unrestricted space.
The handlers work in very close proximity with the elephants, and maintain a social position in the herd.
Behavior is controlled by psychological means, manipulation, and restraint. Both positive and negative reinforcement are used. The elephant is conditioned to move away from the elephant hook and to respond to various commands.
In a Protected contact system the elephant can choose to cooperate or not with their keepers.
The keeper and the elephant do not share the same space, so the elephant can walk away if she or he wants that.
Typically in this system the keeper has contact with the elephant through a protective barrier of some type. The success of the protected contact system depends on how the relationship and trust is between keepers and elephants. Elephants are allowed to work at their own time and nothing is forced.
The keepers use “targets (long bamboo stick) and verbal cues” to direct the elephant in a position that the keeper wants. It can be like lifting a foot for pedicure, presenting an ear, open the mouth etc. So the elephant has to tough the target” with the body part that the keeper wants. Then, the elephant is rewarded with a whistle or a click and a little treat.
Protected contact (if used properly) greatly reduces the risks of injury or death than to the people who work closely with elephants.
But protected contact does not eliminate all the risks. Keepers have to follow safety working guidelines such as positioning the elephant, the keeper’s position relative to the elephant and the keeper and elephant’s position relative to the protected contact barrier.
In Elephant Haven we will use the protected contact system.