Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Sing Khan
" My Teacher"

For The Love of an Elephant!

I think I'm getting in the groove!
Above is another of my finger paintings with a little bit of brush work.
This one is of the eye of my special elephant teacher " Sing Khan".
Those of you that know me, know my passion for elephants. As a child I could not stand to see them any more as all the ones I saw in this country looked troubled and sad.
When the invitation came to go to Thailand to work with them, I was very hesitant for fear of seeing the same thing there. I was assured I would see no such thing by Richard who lives and works there, that I would only see , happy , healthy and engaged elephants. So the invitation to study and work with them was accepted, a dream came true.
I was in a very special place dedicated to preserve and protect the elephants, any human out of bounds with an elephant was instantly reprimanded by the staff. I had never seen elephants look fat or they seemed that way in comparison to what I had seen as a child. Elephants being gaited was another opportunity to study more about bio-mechanics and locomotion as it relates to gaits, one of my favorite things to study, I'm a study freak but I come by that through my family genetics that's for sure.
To touch, to feel, to get as close as I can!
I was not prepared for what was to happen though in finding a new relationship, which I had no say in how it went unless my partner Sing Khan was willing. Elephants have never been bred for domestication so to be standing and living with something 10 feet tall , 2 tons in weight , with a instant sweep of her trunk could finish my life gave one much to be concerned about. What I received from Sing Khan was a welcome with soft searching eyes that had me pegged in no time at all . I realized I would not be teaching her ,but that she would be teaching me, not only about her, but about myself.
I had no halter, no bridle, no saddle, nothing, the only means of communication was my body to hers, using seat ,legs and voice only to do what we needed to get done.
Of course I had to learn a bit of Thai Language since that is what she understood . The seat and legs part was easy, no different than riding a horse just more to wrap them around.
A sample of the words I learned were:
Bai= go
How!= stop
Sok=walk backwards
Geb bon= pick something up
Nung Long= sit down
Loog khen= stand up
plus many many more!
When I got something correct Sing Khan would do the task while so softly bring the tip of her trunk up to me and touch me acknowledging and rewarding me for getting it right. I was being taught through positive re-enforcement just like I teach horses!
I gave her several baths a day would , ride her into the mountain jungle at night so she could eat through the night , walk back up into the jungle at dawn to ride her out for her days work of teaching me.
Dave doing a vaulting mount from the front
on his elephant teacher" Pang -Kod
Also here at the center is the largest and finest elephant hospital in the world. All the treatment is free to any one that brings their elephant in for any medical needs. The center takes on all the cost, they do have to take in tourists and donations from around the world to fund the center and hospital. I met vets from around the world doing internships and had a grand time discussing the elephants aspects of health and bio-mechanics, I was in heaven.
We also entertained the thousands of tourists coming through with what I was learning from and with Sing Khan.
I did teach her one very important thing though, she was not a very good beggar! She loved the treats the tourist would give her but I felt she was not exuberant enough to get more as many of the other elephants did. We worked on this, by the time I left we were able to get so many more treats from the tourists. She got really good at this and giving her the feeling through my emotions of excitement for the treats, she understood and taught her how to show it herself.
Everyday when we would finish our work , I would dismount, I would get up on tip toes and kiss her under her eye, she would then gently touch me with her trunk.
Even as rough as her skin was with coarse hairs, my hands never got tender or sore from all the massaging I did on her.
That surprised me.
Our last minutes together at the lake saying goodbye!
My last day working with her she was trumpeting all the time and she had not done this before she always waged her ears with me but not this very loud , deafening noise before, my Mahout(trainer) teacher told me she knew I was leaving that day and she was sad. I was already holding back tears most of the day as it was , while hiding what I could not hold back, learning she would miss me too I put me over the edge.
We were given some alone time together and rode off to say goodbye privately which we did around the big lake at the center.
Dave and I both left in tears, not wanting to leave our new friends that taught us so much about them and about ourselves.
We were scheduled to go back this year but something in my gut said we should not go, but I did not know why. I listened ,took it off the book and sure enough the country went through a government over throw right when we had booked to return. We would have been stuck living in Bangkok airport with thousands of other stranded people from around the world for 3 weeks. I live in airports enough and am used to it but that would have been way over the top even for me.
I will go back in time, when the world is more peaceful to work on my next level of training. For now I have many wonderful memories to keep me going with Sing Khan in my heart till we can be together again as student, teacher and friends.
Receiving my Amateur Mahout( trainer) certificate
but actually she should have gotten one for teaching me.