Festival highlights the life of the country's mahouts
Dealing with elephants can be a pleasure but as a mahout will tell you sometimes they must also be very diligent, patient, and careful in handling their giant companions.
In general, the life of a mahout might be very different in each country or region they work in depending on the natural factors, living conditions and culture of that area.
A mahout washes his elephant carefully. --Photos Visith
However, there are many similar things that mahouts deal with including the feeding, caring, and training of their elephants during most days.
Normally there is not a specific time for completing their routines as mahouts are free to go about their tasks at any time during the morning, afternoon, and evening such as it's convenient for them and their elephants.
The life of a mahout in Laos can be unique and special though, especially in the context of the country's annual Elephant Festival which was recently held in Xayaboury as one of that province's largest events.
In total there were 68 elephants featured in this year's festival and before the opening day had arrived, mahouts had already left their homes to begin the sometimes long journey to bring them to the province's largest town.
The mahouts say they worked hard on training their elephants for over a month to prepare them in the skills and abilities needed for their performance programmes that were assigned to each of them by the festival's organising committee.
To ensure they would respond to their tasks at hand, the mahouts worked with their elephants daily, taking good care to properly feed and bath them when needed.
On top of this, mahouts say they have to train their elephants to be friendly with people and obedient in general, which they say doesn't always come naturally to them.
Besides feeding the majestic creatures, mahouts say they don't need to wash their elephants every day while some said they didn't wash them much at all. They say they just lead the elephants to a nearby river or watering hole when they are thirsty and if the weather is hot enough the elephants will wash themselves by going into the river or spraying their bodies with water with their trunks.
During the festival, however, the mahouts would wash their elephants twice a day; once in the morning and again in the afternoon in order to keep them clean and beautiful for festival goers.
While washing, most mahouts would clean their elephants with their hands or with other tools such as a scrub brush.
If the elephants are ready, after a feeding of sugar cane, mahouts will then usually lead them to the provincial capital's central stadium to train again in the performance programmes that were assigned.
The programmes of the festival aim to create beautiful displays of the mahout and elephant's wits and skill, as they are known to be some of the more intelligent animals on the planet.
Many times the mahouts would also gather their elephants in the same place to practice activities together like making them line up in groups as part of the festival's performances.
The mahouts say they were both happy and proud to take their elephants to the event and to see the festival goers enjoying the demonstrations of their skills and abilities and to witness the close relationship they have with their animals.
Mr Sombath Chanthavy, a mahout from Thongmixay district of Xayaboury province said that it is not too difficult to raise and train elephants but that one should know what elephants are about and what they like or want or they may have problems.
He said that one should also learn about elephants, trying to get to know and understand the feelings and moods of these animals and to be friendly and caring with them as this was the key to controlling them, adding that it wasn't so dangerous to be a mahout.
Laos is a country that still has a large number of elephants. It has a long history related to the elephant dating back to ancient times and mahouts say they have passed on the traditions of raising elephants from generation to generation for as long as they can remember.
In the past, elephants were raised in more natural conditions, released and tied in the forest as they were raised for pulling wood, carrying crops, and for communication in villages that did not have roads.
Presently, the number of elephants has been reduced through loss of habitat while mahouts continue to r aise their elephants to contribute to the country's tourism or to events related to animal conservation and protection. Other elephants are mainly raised in caring or conservation centres.
By Visith Teppalath
(Latest Update March 27, 2017)