Because of the elephant’s incredible capacity for knowledge, understanding, learning and insight, they have proved to be most useful to human beings. It has been supposed that India was the first place in which elephants started to become trained for domestic purposes. However, it is well understood that, while they may give in to training, an elephant is never truly tame. A male elephant is musth is particularly aggressive and difficult to control. For this reason, most elephants that were being trained for domestic use were female. The one exception is that of war; females will run from males, so only males could be used in this environment.
For whatever purposes elephants are being domesticated, it is important that they are trained from young. Over the centuries, elephants have been domesticated for 3 main tasks:
Elephants were trained and used in warfare in India, China and Persia over the centuries. This practice arose from Alexander the Great’s experience with warring elephants against King Porus. Only male elephants were used and these are known to be aggressive and unruly, particularly when in musth. The benefit lay, not only in their sheer size, but also in their concern for their human trainer (altruism) and in their ability to charge at great speeds. This would be enough to frighten any horse and its rider from the scene.
Elephants are very effective in labour requiring hard slogging and heavy lifting. Logging is particularly ideal for elephants and they are trained to uproot trees and move large logs.
In ancient times, the mighty elephant was sometimes used as an executioner, trained to crush condemned people to death. They were also the ceremonial mounts for royalty and those held in high religious esteem, as well as for safari-style hunting escapades. They are particularly effective as a transport means during hunting because they fit in naturally with other wild animals and they are mightier than many of the predators that humans may face (e.g. tigers).
3. ZOOS and CIRCUSES
Fortunately, animals’ rights activists are clamping down on circuses and zoos for the capture, confinement and use of wild elephants. However, they remain a favourite for all visitors to such establishment, as they hold such fascination in the minds and heart of people. Zoos generally have a better track record for the medical, physical and social care of their elephants than circuses do. Circus performances involving elephants remain popular because of the elephant’s ability to be trained to perform, and also because of its sheer size. The conditions ensuring that they are confined and transported as cost-effectively as possible are often questionable and sometimes horrendous. Their frustration and pain has resulted in a few tramplings of trainers.