My name is Lydia Tiller and I am one of the research assistants at Think Elephants International, looking at elephant cognition with Dr Joshua Plotnik. This will be the first of many blogs that I will write for TEI and this blog in particular will be my first ever blogging attempt J I have been working with Josh in Thailand for 6 months now and I have come to get to know and love all the elephants very dearly. It didn’t take me long to observe how very different each elephant is from another, which is why I thought I would write about the different elephant personalities here at the Golden Triangle.
Me and Namfon during one of our research trials
Intelligence, close family ties and social complexity are traits elephants are well known for. The saying ‘an elephant never forgets’ cannot be more true, as elephants have very long term memories and are able to remember other individuals, past events, places and migration routes for many years. Elephant society is very complex and the lives of males and females are very different. Females spend their entire lives in closely bonded family groups, made up of mothers, daughters, sisters and aunts. The herd is usually led by a matriarch who tends to be the eldest of the group. Once males reach sexual maturity they will leave the herd and live on their own or form loosely bonded bachelor herds.
Being such social animals and living in such a socially complex society, it is no wonder that elephants have strong personalities. Their personality affects how they interact with other elephants, how they influence other elephants and how other elephants will perceive them. Just like humans, some elephants are popular, while others are less so, some elephants have strong leadership qualities, while others are better at being team players, and some are extroverts, while others are introverts.
The more I get to know the elephants, the more I appreciate how unique each elephant is. Here in
, The Golden Triangle Asian
Elephant Foundation (GTAEF) homes and looks after 26 elephants, and each of these elephants
is very different from the others. I could probably write a whole book about
them all. However, for blog purposes, I shall just focus on two elephants
today, and will continue with different elephants in the next set of blogs. Thailand
The first elephant I got to know well here is Bo. She is in her 30’s and oozes personality. Bo is a very strong minded elephant and will do things in her own time, not always responding immediately to her mahout. I had an interesting experience one day when riding Bo on a trip to the river for bathing. All the other elephants entered the river in the normal way via a platform leading into the water. Bo, however, had an alternative motive and chose a different route through the mud. Bo loves the mud and started to throw mud all over herself, and also myself, and then she started to rub up against the muddy bank. She was enjoying herself so much that she didn’t stop and didn’t listen to the commands of the mahouts or me, and just carried on coating us in mud. She finally gave in to her mahout’s commands and Bo and myself were completely caked in mud! Bo is also a delight to study. Currently, we are investigating elephant olfaction and so, after investigating the task that we set her, Bo always nods her head and makes a loud snort to say, “I know the answer”. A very clever elephant indeed!
The second elephant I am going to tell you about is Meena. She is only 6 years old and is already the star attraction at the Ananatara Hotel and loved by all. Every morning she goes to meet the guests at breakfast. Here, she has wooed the crowds by her confident and eccentric character. Like all stars, Meena is a bit of a diva too. She gets the tastiest of fruits handed to her every morning due to her fame, which we think has gone to her head, as we have come to learn that she will not work to get her food. We found this out when trying to use her in our research, which she clearly found very unglamorous and somewhat beneath her! We needed her to complete a set intelligence task in order to gain a food reward. Obviously, this work was not what star elephants should be doing as Meena is used to food being handed to her on a plate, and not having to work for it. So, Meena refused to `play ball’ and decided instead to break our equipment, as if throwing a diva tantrum.
Here, Meena is munching away on some tasty grass, while also decorating her head. Stars have to look their best at all times.
To be continued............... J