Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Buffetting : CM Day 3

Day two I was greeted up by the loud trumpeting calls of the elephants. After breakfast, Jean one of the volunteers brought me to meet the volunteer vet and Thai resident vet; Erica and Dr P. I was pretty much sticking with Dr Erica throughout the day.

Sticking with a vet and learning the veterinary side of the ENP was a great insight. Following her around treating the elephants definitely allows me to have more access to the knowledge I seek.

What the vet does here is basically maintenance on the footwork, the skin and cuts, the eyes and sometimes the ears. The sad thing is the facility is not well equipped enough for an open surgery setting yet, though there wasn't any surgery to begin with anyway; apart from the buffaloes and dogs around the reserve.

We worked on several different elephants, mostly females while I had an extremely hard time remembering their names and which one they are. But, I guess I will learn throughout the week. There are a few things to know working around elephants pertaining the safety of both parties:

1)    differentiate the threat signals from them. Elephants wave their trunks, tails and head all the time. So it is normal. However, when threatened they usually spread their ears wide to make themselves look larger. During scouting they lift year trunk up like they seemed to investigate, usually just to send warnings to the threats around, and wouldn't be on full charge. If their ears are spred with curled trunks inwards, you are in for a full charge, and chasing May even occur.
2) go from their back, not front to different sides of their body. Try not to get too close between elephants if you are not familiar with the elephants at all.

There are a few interesting work Erica have performed on the elephants. One of them is the usual footwork and abscess cleaning. Footwork includes flushing them with clean water, brushing the mud and dirt off the foot to prevent dirt sticking between cracks or crevices, flushing with povidone iodine. Filings sometimes will be given to take away the dead cuticles around the nails, just deep enough to get the nails away and prevent dirt from sticking in them. Abscess cleaning includes flushing them with the povidone iodine, until there is no puss in the holes anymore, and then application of bacticin(antibiotic used in horses) into the abscess pit. It is not usually practiced, pumping bacticin a kind of antibacterial, but it aids in preventing the puss from solidifying in the scar. A thing to note is, allow abscess to open up by itself so the cleaning up would be easier.

Although it seemed like a small chunk, footwork plays the most important part in keeping the elephants healthy, as they travel a lot in a day. Some elephants with reoccurring problems with puss will require cleaning with either chlorohexidine or betadine(generic name for povidone iodine), scrub and flush of the same kind. Cross usage of each product will cancel off each other's effect. After flushing the wound is being sprayed with gentadine violet, an antiseptic. This so commonly done on elephants with bad legs and had past experience with landmines.

The most interesting part of today's trip was the positive reinforcement practice in the park for the elephants. Volunteers here do not believe in punishing the elephants for what they didn't do; instead they focus on rewarding for them to cooperate. That's what they called positive reinforcement. They do something positive, they are being reinforced with the rewards given. This method id particularly useful in future attempts to give treatment to the elephants, so no screaming or hooking will involve, instilling unnecessary stress on the elephants which will not promote healing anyway.

What is being done here in the positive reinforcement is that, the elephants will be isolated first in the training wall. A physical barrier between the animal and the handler will deem a much positive and safer environment for the training to proceed. Elephants are arguable the strongest animal on land, and one swing, either playful or threatening one will inflict substantial damage to handler. Before desensitizing the animal, adult or young, handlers should be training the elephants in the training wall or with a physical barrier. In the training wall, there are holes at the lower ends of the steel wars for the elephants to rest their legs when treatment is being attempted. While the handlers try to communicate with the elephants, they use long rods with bubble foam or sponge coats to slowly pat on the side or the leg in which they wish to have on the wall. As the elephants respond positively, they will reward them will chunks of fruits to reinforce those behaviors and cooperativeness. The handlers here, Crissy and Michelle are people will extremely good patience, big heart and are incredibly lovely to the elephants. They made the point to treat these elephants and train them like how they would train dogs, or even horses. Its really heartwarming to see them treating the elephants so gently, with full respect and care for the elephants which are really gentle in nature. What Erica does here is to time those sessions, on how long the elephants keep their legs up in a span of time; gradually increasing them every two days to desensitize the elephants towards the reinforcement.

The end of the day we completed the day with treating the few elephants which require footwork twice a day. I managed to only remember Mae Lae Tong now because of her leg with a badly blown off scar from the landmine. The usual work will be scrubbing with povidone and flushing them; putting antibiotics if needed. Later on we went on to aid crissy and michelle desensitizing the baby elephants with 1.5 yrs, 1 yrs old and 8 months old. (Nevann, Yindee and Dek Mai).

The vet work ended at 5, while I enjoyed a cultural night after dinner with Jean, Can and Tork, The night was a little hard without the power, but i slept much better than the night before because i know how to work around the mosquito net now.


  1. the elphants look so scary what if when u r treating them they suddenly attack u

    1. well, we have their mahouts around when we are treating them. most of them are trained or desensitized for us to work with them better, so usually there ain't much problem. But, we still have to becareful because some of them tease us a lot by flapping their ears or what not. since most of them are females, they are usually gentle.

  2. Replies
    1. Make application! ENP is open to all volunteers! but vet field work is only open to vet students with faculty letter XD