Myanmar Timber Elephant Project

Océane Liehrmann has finished her Master’s Thesis on elephant-mahout working relationship. And won the best poster prize in Paris congress. Congratulations!

October 15, 2019


The nature of relationships between people and animals has been of interest for many centuries. However, the experimental study of these interactions is a relatively recent development, despite the suggestion that Human-Animal interactions may have consequences for animal welfare. Intriguingly, although the Human-Animal relationship is an important factor to take into account in animal management, researchers have to date overlooked some animals: the agricultural working animals for hard labour known as draught animals. To investigate the Human-Draught Animal relationship, The Myanma timber elephant research group at the university of Turku video recorded preliminary behavioural tests in 2017 and 2018 on 87 Myanmar timber elephants with assigned mahouts (head rider/ care taker). Elephants were asked to respond to the call of their own mahout or to the call of another mahout. These tests aimed to assess if the existence of a long-lasting relationship between handlers and animals affects the quality of the response to work orders and the animal’s behaviour. My analysis of these videos showed that most of the elephants responded only to their own mahout and elephants responded faster when they had a long lasting relationship with their mahout. The success rate was also driven by the age of the elephant in interaction with the mahout’s identity, indicating the importance of training and for the animal and handlers to know and understand each other. This study is the first to experimentally assess the relationship between handlers and draught animals, highlighting the importance of this relationship to improve work performance. Further research is needed to investigate the role of the Human-Draught Animal relationship in terms of animal welfare and handlers’ security.

Keywords: Human-Animal Relationship, draught animals, working performance, personality, stress, Elephas maximus.

Océane Liehrmann won the Best Poster prize in Paris.