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What is a Mahout?

A mahout is not just an elephant rider; they are custodians of an ancient bond, skilled in the art of communication and care for these majestic creatures. This role, steeped in tradition, requires deep understanding and respect. Discover how mahouts shape the lives of elephants and the cultural significance behind this unique companionship. What might their stories reveal to us? Continue reading to find out.
Garry Crystal
Garry Crystal

A mahout is a person who drives and looks after elephants. The mahout starts his career very young, usually at about ten years old. The mahout is usually given an elephant to look after and care for for the rest of the elephant's life.

In India and Africa, elephants are trained from a very young age. A wild elephant can take about three months to train. In this time, the elephant will learn basic commands such as sit, stand, stop and walk. Elephants can be used to haul heavy objects such as trees. They are also able, on command, to uproot trees with their trunk and move them to other areas.

An elephant.
An elephant.

The job of a mahout is extremely difficult. There are three distinct types of mahout. The Yukthimah are mahouts who use ingenuity to outsmart their elephants. The Reghawan use love in their training, and the unpopular Balwan use cruelty to teach their elephants to behave. Mahouts use tools such as an ankusha, which is a barbed hook that prods the elephant in the direction it is to go.

A mahout handles and cares for elephants.
A mahout handles and cares for elephants.

Another job of the mahout is to make sure the elephant is bathed every day. Elephants live in countries with extremely high temperatures, and in the hot season, it is difficult to find rivers that have not dried up. The mahout must also make sure that the elephant does not run away when it is grazing in open land. Think of how difficult it is to control a wandering baby, and then multiply it by 100 for a baby elephant.

When most ten year olds in the western world are playing with computer games, mahouts are learning to look after a baby elephant. Elephants are often used to carry tourists, and this is big part of the mahout’s job. Mahouts can be paid well for doing this, and the sign of a good Mmahout is the control he has when an elephant is carrying a tourist. Many mahouts go on to be rangers, as their skill with the elephants is invaluable.

The training of a mahout is similar to a family business, passed down from one generation to the next. The art of training an elephant is gradually becoming extinct. The capture of wild elephants has been forbidden and domestic elephants can no longer breed.

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    • An elephant.
      By: Jakub Krechowicz
      An elephant.
    • A mahout handles and cares for elephants.
      By: Helen Vedmed
      A mahout handles and cares for elephants.