Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Elephants - Part 1

[Thursday, April 2, 2009 12:30am Thai Time]
The bus to Lampang (about 90 km south of Chiang Mai) dropped us off in front of the Thai Elephant Conservation Center and we called JP who told us to get our tickets and ride the shuttle up to the showgrounds. Here's another site that has videos of Center.

On the way up we saw this board next to information on getting a day of Mahout training.

The show focused more on skills the elephants had that made them so important for getting timber from the forest to the roads. But most such work is no longer available in Thailand because the government has programs to protect teak forests.

The show also included a non-traditional Thai elephant activity - painting.

Here are the three paintings we saw the elephants paint.

Apparently, elephants have very good control with their trunks and can do this sort of painting, but these representational paintings are done with close supervision from the mahouts. But when painting on their own, the elephants do much more abstract work than this. But the Center sells the paintings so this is a form of fundraiser.

After the show, people got to feed the elephants. A bunch of little bananas was 20 Baht ($.60). Most of the other visitors were Thai, though there were a a few other foreigners.

JP is a doctoral student doing his dissertation research here at the center. We met him last year and finally got a chance to go out and visit him in the center. His research is very interesting but I was sworn to silence until his work is published. But an earlier paper he published as a masters student on how elephants recognize themselves in mirrors. Here's the abstract:

Considered an indicator of self-awareness, mirror self-recognition (MSR) has long seemed limited to humans and apes. In both phylogeny and human ontogeny, MSR is thought to correlate with higher forms of empathy and altruistic behavior. Apart from humans and apes, dolphins and elephants are also known for such capacities. After the recent discovery of MSR in dolphins (Tursiops truncatus), elephants thus were the next logical candidate species. We exposed three Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) to a large mirror to investigate their responses. Animals that possess MSR typically progress through four stages of behavior when facing a mirror: (i) social responses, (ii) physical inspection (e.g., looking behind the mirror), (iii) repetitive mirror-testing behavior, and (iv) realization of seeing themselves. Visible marks and invisible sham-marks were applied to the elephants' heads to test whether they would pass the litmus “mark test” for MSR in which an individual spontaneously uses a mirror to touch an otherwise imperceptible mark on its own body. Here, we report a successful MSR elephant study and report striking parallels in the progression of responses to mirrors among apes, dolphins, and elephants. These parallels suggest convergent cognitive evolution most likely related to complex sociality and cooperation.
You can read the whole article at the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


  1. I liked the picture of Joan feeding the elephant! Dianne

  2. Mudd laughed when I read the list of rules to him. I know he wants to grab the elephant tails. That is something he would do.


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