What do the elephants do all day?
The patients are cared for around the clock by their keepers. They are fed, bathed, have their pens cleaned and are treated by our vets. In the case that their health is up to it, they go on short walks and are allowed out of their pens for a while.
Why are the elephants separated?
The elephants are housed separately while treated for their own safety concerns and to allow individualized care. Elephants are social creatures, so this is why we have pens which allow them to look out at and talk to the other elephants.
Do they get to be free or exercise?
In general, the elephants are here to rest up and recover and not to exercise. In the cases where the elephants are healthy enough to walk around, they are let out to take a dip in the water pool, spend time in the forest, or let to roam in the chain-free coral area. We also are working on an enrichment project to keep the elephants entertained between treatments. The main focus of FAE Elephant Hospital, however, is to provide a safe environment and everything needed for the welfare and speedy recovery of our patients.
Do they all get along? Are any of them friends?
The elephants all know each other and do get the chance to interact. Their pens are open to allow them to see their friends, and others (such as the young elephants Dante and Ploy) actually get to walk and run around together at certain times of the day. Sadly, there are also elephants like Bobo who was mistreated in the past and is suffering from PTSD. He is possibly dangerous, and only allowed to interact with his keeper, whom he trusts.
Is an "elephant keeper" the same as a "mahout"?
A mahout’s job is special. Traditionally, mahouts care for elephants from their childhood and are bonded for life. However, these days, they often have a commercial focus on the elephant’s performance, as seen while interacting with visitors, performing tricks or while doing labor as a work elephant.
Our elephant keepers are not to be confused with mahouts. The keepers at FAE Elephant Hospital cannot be called “trainers” either. A trainer has a duty to help an elephant perform its duty for someone else. Our elephants are simply being themselves and have come to recover, whether in- or out-patients, or permanent residents. And our keepers’ task is to make them as comfortable as possible as they recover. The focus of everyone here is to see our elephants get well and be happy.
Can I approach the elephants when I visit?
Please remember that this is a hospital and kindly follow the same good manners you would follow in a people hospital: be quiet, visit and interact with patients only when authorized, and remember that this is a place for healing and rest for the elephants.
Also remember that elephants are powerful creatures and always respect this and only approach an elephant if it is authorized. Some of our elephants have been traumatized or treated cruelly before coming to stay with FAE, so they may become easily scared by people they aren’t familiar with.
Why are chains used?
Our foremost concern at FAE Elephant Hospital is the safety of the elephants and of our staff and visitors. Chains are a necessary part of keeping the elephants and everyone safe. Some elephants would cause themselves quite a bit of harm if they were to try to walk or run freely as they heal.
Please do understand that an elephant is a very large creature and that we use the lightest possible chain to secure our patients. This is quite similar to a dog of 10 kilos wearing a half kilo chain or leash. A full grown adult elephant weighing 2,000-4,000 kilos (4,400-8,800 lbs) is hardly affected by a chain.
We just installed an area for chain-free corals for Auan. She is able to roam freely there every evening when the sun isn’t too hot and she can safely enjoy the land.
Why are chains used in the pens?
The chains are there for the safety of the elephants and the keepers. The elephants are able to roam around their pens quite freely even while having a chain attached, much like a dog on a leash in a yard.
Why are they kept in pens?
The elephant pens are open and specially designed to provide patients a maximum view and feeling of company with their fellow elephants as well as visitors and staff. As we have said elsewhere, safety is our primary concern, and these special enclosures designed by us allow maximum safety and comfort for our recovering patients.
Why not make the pens higher and no chains when within the pens?
Our pens were basically invented by us over 20 years ago to provide for the safety of the elephants and their keepers. They have strong metal bars that go into the ground to secure the elephants, yet the bars are spaced openly enough to allow the elephants a sense of openness, as well as provide an easy escape route should an elephant we are treating have behavior problems and become dangerous. The bars in the pens also have a low height to allow visitors and staff to look in on the elephants, and meanwhile, the elephants can look out onto the world safely from a comfortable height above the safety bars.
Do the young elephants undergo training? Why?
Young elephants will attend the National Elephant Institute’s school to learn 20 basic commands for mahouts and vets to provide proper care for them. Commands like “stop,” “lay down,” or “lift your leg,” are taught so that elephants don’t need to be put under anesthetics to be treated when they injure themselves. Simultaneously, mahouts and keepers are also enrolled in the National Elephant Institute so that learning of the commands and techniques are uniform and consistent.
Elephants are taught young because, just like “old dogs can’t learn new tricks,” it is more challenging for older elephants to update their actions. Young elephants are being taught with a new curriculum (developed with the coordination of Dr. Preecha) where positive reinforcement is the key.
Is euthanasia ever used?
We carefully analyze each case and ensure all measures have been taken to rescues each elephant. However, when we see that an elephant’s situation is hopeless and their quality of life is deteriorated (e.g., they can no longer live without feeling pain), we will put an elephant down to ease their never-ending suffering.