Compassionate Elephant Care (CEC)

Compassionate Elephant Care is a system of caring for and training a captive elephant, free of punishment and infliction of pain, that enables a mahout and elephant caregiver to manipulate the elephant’s behavior, while maneuvering safely around or atop him/her, in a free-contact environment.


Why Compassionate Elephant Care?

Traditionally, mahouts are indoctrinated that elephants can be controlled through dominance. CEC is an alternative, an effective way to manage elephants using positive reinforcement.

Compassionate Elephant Care

  • Gives mahouts and elephant caregivers the necessary skills to care for elephants humanely.

  • Gives the mahout an alternative management system that focuses on positive reinforcement and healthy relationship building. Learning humane training methods benefits the elephant while enhancing the status of the mahout with tourists concerned for the elephant’s well being.


The goal

To demonstrate that through positive reinforcement, such as food rewards and praise, mahouts can achieve a more balanced, respectful and cooperative relationship with their elephants.


How is Compassionate Elephant Care taught?

Compassionate Elephant Care uses sound learning theory to teach behavior modification.

CEC programs begin with academic instruction, followed by hands-on tutoring. The schedule is structured around the mahout and his elephant, to avoid disruption to the elephant’s daily routine. Optimally, the daily program consists of 30-60 minutes of academic instruction followed by one hour of hands-on tutoring, for 30 consecutive days.


Academic instruction

Academic instruction takes place in a group setting at the elephant stable area.

The academic portion of the program increases a mahout’s knowledge of his elephant’s personality, behavior and how his elephant processes information. The mahout gains knowledge in

  • Elephant biology and physiology
  • How the environment and outside stimuli influence an elephant’s response and reactions.
  • How a fear response interferes with learning.
  • How the elephant’s emotions, state of mind, past experiences (both traumatic and pleasurable) and personality influence the ways s/he responds to the trainer.
  • The effects of positive and negative reinforcement.


Relationship building

The program helps mahouts reframe their experience in the context of deeper knowledge of elephants’ advanced intellect and social nature. They are encouraged to empathize with the pain and suffering elephants experience if trained and managed harshly. By learning new ways of interacting with their elephants, and seeing positive results, they can transform their approach and the mahout-elephant relationship.


Sensitivity to culture

The instructor’s sensitivity to the mahout culture of elephant training is key to the program. Sharing experiences and engaging in open dialogue create the foundation for change.


Hands-on tutoring

The daily individual hands-on tutoring provides an opportunity for the mahout to apply what he has learned under the watchful eye of another skilled trainer. Hands-on tutoring takes place wherever a mahout interacts with his elephant, including in the stable area, bathing at the river and collecting fodder in the forest.

*The Compassionate Elephant Care system of elephant training was developed by Carol Buckley. The sole purpose of CEC is to improve elephant welfare through education.