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Family traditions for mahouts of Asian elephants

By L. Hart, Sundar

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The mahout and elephant relationship is one of the oldest human-animal relationships, possibly beginning as far back as 5,000 years ago. Valued for their assistance in war and work, elephants were trained and managed using methods described in ancient Indian texts. The lifelong job of mahouts historically had a long apprenticeship, and was passed from father to son. In 1973, when the government in Karnataka, India, assumed ownership of the maharajah's elephants, Hindu and Muslim mahouts with their elephants were relocated to national forests and became employees of the Forest Department. Members of honey-gathering tribes (called tribals) began to be offered government jobs as mahouts. To assess the current patterns of family traditions with elephants among mahouts living within Nagarahole National Park, India, sixteen mahouts and four young assistants were interviewed, representing Hindu, Muslim, and tribal families. In all three cultures, almost all had been introduced to elephants by a father or other male relative; the mahouts' sons expected to be mahouts. Mahouts' sons regularly assisted and played an essential role in the management of female elephants. No examples of injuries to children were mentioned by mahouts, yet some mahouts and villagers had been killed or seriously injured by elephants. Family tradition played a major role for Hindus, Muslims, and tribals in the decision to work with elephants. The semi-captivity of, and traditional, structured work activities with, Asian elephants may afford some possible improvements for their welfare and human-elephant conflicts.

Date 2000
Publication Title Anthrozoos
Volume 13
Issue 1
Pages 34-42
ISBN/ISSN 0892-7936
Language English
Author Address Center for Animals in Society, School of Veterinary Medicine, University of California, Davis, CA 95616,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal rights
  2. Animal welfare
  3. Anthrozoology
  4. Asia
  5. Commonwealth of Nations
  6. Developed countries
  7. Domestication
  8. Draft animals
  9. Elephants
  10. Human-animal interactions
  11. Human-animal relationships
  12. India
  13. Mammals
  14. Mysore
  15. peer-reviewed
  16. Primates
  17. surveys
  18. traction animals
  19. traditions
  20. training
  21. Working animals
  1. peer-reviewed