How Do You Break the Mind of an Elephant? PDF Print E-mail

By Suvasini Ramaswamy
Source: The Wire

Elephants are not domesticated creatures, and the ones we see that appear to have been domesticated have actually had their body and will broken by a gruesome capture and subsequent training processes.

In a disturbing and debauched twist, in all these endeavours, previously tamed and trained elephants are employed either as decoys or as koonkis (or khungkies) to restrain, control and tame the captive elephant. The main duty of the koonki is to press and confine the wild elephants between them. Several koonkis work on an elephant and squeeze it between them so that the men on the ground can work in relative safety. In fact, a good number of the captive elephants get weak at this stage and may collapse from exhaustion and heat. Some of the rogue elephants that are not subjugated are shot. In the end, a much smaller percentage of the ‘truly broken’ captive animals are tamed and trained for their ultimate purpose.

These surviving animals are wounded, bitten, hungry and isolated. The captive elephants are then marched to a kraal, or a training enclosure, where they are truly broken – in mind, body and spirit. The kraal is a tiny, roofed enclosure of teak beams, measuring some 12 square feet. When the captive is introduced, the crossbars are replaced and firmly wedged in place. Early in the training process, the elephants are marched every morning and evening to the river to the accompaniment of traditional training commands. They are made to perform simple instructions such as stopping, going backwards, and turning around. The words of command are sung to the elephant, accompanied at first by severe thwacks with sticks and jabs with iron-tipped poles, attendant elephants assisting and performing the same gyrations. The elephant has a set of body ropes to which a rider clings as one attendant walks along in front with a long, sharp, wooden spear while another tails the back. The training is terminated by a bath and drink in the river. Strict discipline, captivity, pokes and jabs, teach the already wounded and starving animal to obey commands and over weeks this battering renders a wild animal docile. In this training phase, the mahout gains the trust of the captive animal by kinder treatment and continuous attention – thus beginning their journey from the wild and into our homes, circuses and temples.

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