By Becky Jane Newbold
Founder of Elephant Aid International, Buckley’s 30 year career of working with elephants most recently has taken her to India and Nepal where she began simply.
“I was at a national park with veterinarian, Elephant Care, to assist with health check-ups,” she said in our recent interview. “My job was to take photos.”
She noticed the elephants’ feet were in poor condition and asked if she could trim their feet. Putting together a presentation, Buckley addressed a mandatory owners meeting that was called. A new culture of foot trimming in Asia began.
Elephants in India are cared for by Mahouts, some of the lowest of the socio-economic status cast. At first, little attention was paid to Carol’s contributions. But for the Mahouts, her observations have led to a greater understanding of the elephants in their care. Each year she travels back to trim as many as 200 elephants’ feet and to teach another way of elephant management.
Getting a start in the circus with a baby elephant named Tarra, when Carol Buckley was just out of college, Carol noted how trainers in the United States handled elephants. Carol has spent her life seeking a better way. Taking her Compassionate Elephant Care system, free of punishment and free of infliction of pain, to India has been her latest venture.
While trimming feet, Carol realized the Mahouts handled their elephants in exactly the same manner as she had observed in circuses.
“Elephant management practices came from an Asian mindset. Mahouts taught circuses and zoos a dominant method of how to care for and control elephants. It continues to blow my mind how elephants are still controlled in American circuses identically to Asia,” she stated.
By teaching the Mahouts to improve the area where elephants are kept (i.e. clean from manure, etc.) and to trim the elephants feet, the lives of working elephants are improving.
“I got out of the circus industry, because I was appalled by that treatment. I am now in the middle of it,” she commented. In middle Tennessee in 1995, Carol, alongside co-founder Scott Blais, created a place – The Elephant Sanctuary (TES) – where “the elephant is not compromised,” she explained. But in Asia, Carol must compromise to help. “I have no control, no power. I am helping elephants who are owned by someone else. A little improvement is better than nothing,” she added.
Carol Buckley left TES in 2010 and Scott Blais left soon after. Both have begun new elephant related projects while TES continues under new leadership.
Another part of Buckley’s work has been the introduction of chain-free corrals. Elephants in captivity often suffer debilitating foot problems due to the conditions in which they are kept. Buckley saw this time and time again during her work at The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald.
What started with a project resulting in chain free corrals for six elephants at The National Trust for Nature Conservation Biodiversity Conservation Center in Sauraha, Nepal, has now grown. The Nepali government, recognizing improved elephant behavior as a result of the corrals, requested Carol Buckley create chain-free space for 63 government-owned elephants. The project was completed June of this year. Now Tiger Tops, Chitwan National Park’s premier tourist destination has requested Carol Buckley design chain free space for their 17 elephants.
One elephant’s behavior was a disgrace to the Mahouts and likewise to the government. Taking the dysfunctional, swaying behavior as a personal failure, the Mahouts were stunned with the simplicity of the solution.
An elephant named Prakrit Kali had been separated from her mother, but they were chained 25 feet apart. In the wild, baby elephants are never separated from their mothers and a herd of “aunts” and significant others. Highly social and dependent on each other for interaction, the reuniting of mother and baby through the chain-free, fencing project led to resolution of the swaying for Prakrit Kali.
“Before, the Mahouts would hit the elephants to ‘tell’ them to lie down. Now, the Mahouts show off how they can get their elephants to lie down without hitting them.
“It’s a whole new concept for them to be off chains. They are part of the solution,” she said.
In Carol’s immediate future, she is searching for land to create another “sanctuary” type environment, one she will call an “Elephant Preserve.” She is looking for land in the south eastern portion of the U. S. and says, “Tarra will come with me.”
Tarra paraded downtown Hohenwald in 1995 as an introduction to the community. Since that time, Tarra has roamed the 2,700 acres in Lewis County and is part of the Asian herd.
“I have always said, Tarra’s going to live in the best place possible,” Carol concluded.
Meanwhile, Carol continues her work. “What I’m doing, teaching: English lessons, Compassionate Elephant Care (which includes an understanding of how the elephant processes information) and how to modify the Mahout’s response to elephants.
“They have an astute sensitivity to the dangers of an elephant,” she explained. “That’s why the Mahouts are so great. They have a built-in knowledge of when danger is present. Many women who want to work with elephants come in at the ground level with a ‘Disney perspective.’ Elephants are wild animals. The Mahouts have a lot to contribute.
Learn more about Carol’s work at Elephant Aid International via www.validitymag.com
News from The Elephant Sanctuary
“After successful transports, Sukari, 31 years old, and Rosie, a 44 year old, have now joined their Zoo mate, Hadari, in Sanctuary,” a spokesperson with TES said in a press release.
Hadari, a 33-year-old African elephant, arrived at The Sanctuary from the Zoo in late September. Soon after, the Nashville Zoo made the decision to also retire Rosie. By early November, Sukari joined Hadari and Rosie. The three elephants have been together at the Nashville Zoo since 2010.
Rosie, Sukari and Hadari have joined Flora, a 33-year-old African, and Tange, a 42-year-old African, in The Sanctuary’s African habitat. Their arrival at The Elephant Sanctuary increased the current number of residents to 14.
TES is closed to the public, in true sanctuary form.
Live-feed via video may be seen at The Elephant Sanctuary via www.validitymag.com.
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