We are involved in several projects to aid Asian and African elephants:
Trumpets of Change
Trumpets of Change: Elephant Recovery through Human Transformation, a book by G. A. Bradshaw and Carol Buckley chronicling the path to elephant society restoration. By integrating sanctuary, psychology and spirituality, the authors provide an practical and ethical narrative for reconciling humans with their elephant kin.
In Summer, 2008, in collaboration with Indian scientists and veterinarians, Kerulos faculty member, Elke Riesterer, worked with mahouts and their elephants to illustrate the healing benefits of touch therapy (seen above with 45-year-old Shandrasekharan). Captive elephants suffer deeply psychologically and physically. Teaching healing methods of body therapy and massage brings relief to elephants as well as illustrates a compassionate, gentle way for mahouts and veterinarians to relate to elephants.
The project's first phase included collecting data on elephant health and living conditions as well as mahout-elephant relationships. Extensive video footage documents the sessions with twenty-five participating elephants and their keepers (see photo below, Elke with 40-year-old Soman). We are now synthesizing and analyzing data for scientific publications and other media to help elephants in captivity around the world. Already, the project has had an impact on attitudes and health. We witness the beginnings of cultural change.
Dr. Rinku Gohain, an elephant veterinarian from Assam, India, worked with Elke to assess elephant physiological wellbeing during therapeutic sessions. He admits that he had reservations at the start of the project, but when he witnessed how the elephants responded, he changed his mind and is now a strong advocate for body therapy for elephants and other animals in captivity. Here he describes his experience with Elke:
The behavior of the elephants during your work explained how they desire caressing and love touch, as if they were deficient and feeling the need for some attention—those who have ended their wild freedom, freedom from playing, freedom from free movement.......The most striking expression was when working with the pregnant elephants and the youngster, Prithwiraj. At first, I had some feelings of fear to let you work on the elephants all alone, particularly when a mahout would say that some particular elephant is unpredictable. Nunaimala, for instance, had a habit of catching people with her trunk when alone with some new person. But when I saw you working on her all alone I was really amazed, she was very comfortable with your presence and your touch.
Later, Dr. Gohain describes how the health of young bull elephant, Prithwiraj, and the attitude and behaviour of his mahout have both improved since the therapeutic session:
I had an opportunity to check on Prithwiraj yesterday. He is really doing fine. No sign of the warts. He also seemed without any depression and is with the same mahout also. The mahout told me that he had been doing the tongue massage sometimes, it seemed to be true as when I tried the same, Prithwiraj didn't seem to mind and accepted it well.
Finally, this from Jose Louies who served as the on-side project coordinator and translator, speaking English, Hindi, and Malayalam. Jose works with Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) and conducts undercover wildlife investigations:
I never was an elephant person. My interest was in reptiles and this was the
first time I had the opportunity to learn something about the captive
elephants and the situations they face every day. For me the entire episode
with you was a new learning experience and that made me to look at elephants
from a different angle. I admit that I started reading about elephants and
want to learn more about them.
Media and Publications
ABC News program 20/20, Under an Elephant's Tough Exterior, featured Kerulos Director Gay Bradshaw in an episode about elephant PTSD. Winner of 2009 Genesis Award. View the video here.
Carol Buckley and G. A. Bradshaw. 2010. The art of cultural brokerage: recreating the elephant-human relationship and community. Spring Journal.83.
Bradshaw, G.A. and L. Linder, 2006. Post-traumatic stress and elephants in captivity. The Elephant Sanctuary In Tennessee website
Bradshaw, G.A. 2009. Elephants and the New Animal Protection Conservation. In M. Bekoff, Encyclopedia of Animal Rights and Animal Welfare, ABC-CLIO. Santa Barbara, CA.
Bradshaw, G.A. 2009. Inside looking out: neurobiological compromise effects in elephants in captivity. An elephant in the room: the science and wellbeing of elephants in captivity, D. L. Forthman, L. F. Kane, David Hancock, and P. F. Waldau. Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy. p.55-68.
Elephant Trauma and Cultural Recovery Historically, elephants in India and other parts of Asia roamed across the continent living. Today, there is intense conflict between humans and elephants.
Elephants in close confinement captivity live in chronic stress, deprivation, and pain even when direct physical punishment is not employed. While culturally engrained images of performing animals and zoo exhibits may evoke nostalgia and fascination for humans, the experience of animals in captivity is far different. The measure of elephant suffering can perhaps be best appreciated when we take into account the radical differences between captivity and the wild habitats to which they are ecologically, psychologically and evolutionarily adapted.
When release from abuse does occur, the road to recovery is not easy. Elephants coming to sanctuary experience tremendous improvements, yet they still carry the scars and burden of their past experience. Similar to human prisoners who survive, elephants from circuses and zoos are diagnosed with Complex PTSD (Post-traumatic Stress Disorder) and other trauma-induced conditions.
Sadly, free-ranging elephants are no longer immune from the ravages of trauma. Poaching, culls, and the stress of life in shrinking habitat have torn apart elephant society. Orphaned infants suffer physiological and emotional shock when they lose their mothers and families and elephants everywhere are under siege from human pressures. Elephants and their culture are threatened with collapse.