FIELD NOTES FROM MAX’S PERSONAL MAHOUT
Karl Cullen moved to Thailand from Australia 3 years ago. During that time he has
worked at Elephant Nature Park as a mahout to your fostered elephant, Max.
This is Karl and Max’s personal story of their time at the park.
I have been working at Elephant Nature Park as the mahout to Maximus, or Max, since August 2003. I began with a fair amount of general knowledge about elephants, but none about Max or about being a mahout. This meant the first 6 months were an anxious time. The responsibility of looking after an animal such as an elephant is huge, and a little daunting. I was determined to give it my best, but with the reservation that I would bow out gracefully if I ever felt it would be best for Max if I did.
Over three years later Max and I are still working together. I hope it remains that way for the remainder of his life. Whether or not Max shares this opinion can only be learned by asking Max!
I began work with Max at a time when he was in a very bad state, hardly resembling a living, breathing elephant. Seeing his health improve and watching him progress has been one of the most satisfying aspects of my time at the park. I will be forever grateful to have been given the opportunity to be a part of that in such a direct way.
One of the most wonderful results of spending time with Max has been the understanding I now have, both of Max and elephants in general. I’ve had a lot of guidance and support from the park’s mahouts and Lek, but it is Max who has taught me the really important lessons about being a mahout. I feel we have developed a relationship that more closely resembles a partnership rather than a traditional mahout / elephant relationship.
This is through understanding his personality, including knowing the things that make him more comfortable or uncomfortable. I also try to impart to him an understanding of the ways I would like to work with him. Over a longer period of time, that understanding will hopefully grow
The most obvious change in Max since his arrival has been his health. This has improved dramatically, to the point of him going twice into a period of musth. This is a very good sign he is feeling the way a bull elephant should be feeling. Added to this is his increased confidence, both around other elephants and people.
This has shown itself in both the interest he has shown in female elephants, as well as interest they have shown in him. He also has an increased intolerance towards people, which I see as perfectly natural for an elephant coming from his situation. Through this intolerance our understanding of Max increases, and wherever possible we can simply adjust our behaviour to accommodate his wishes.
This shouldn’t be mistaken for aggression on Max’s part; however he has shown in certain situations, discounting musth of course that he will act on this. I would say that Max and all elephants are gentle by nature, we simply have to show them the respect they deserve and we will witness this.
Max’s personality is difficult to define or put into words. His disability gives him the appearance of being a very relaxed and easygoing elephant as he slowly ambles around the park. I would agree with that, but I also feel there is an incredibly strong spirit that drives Max, as evidenced by the fact that he is still here at all.
He certainly enjoys the attention of the females, of which he receives plenty, though he always plays it cool, more James Bond than Austin Powers! He doesn’t have a particular female that he seems
fonder of but Tong Jan’s family, including Mae Bua Tong, Mae Thai and Mae Somboon, spend more time with Max than any other elephants.
He is terrified of Boon Khum, the dominant male, but can be friendly with Khan Min, he’s even sparred playfully with him at times. Phu Pa, the youngest adult male is generally swiftly dismissed with a shake of the head. At the same time Max, whilst not overly affectionate, is very good with the youngest elephants, and they are very fond of him, often gazing up at Max as he towers over them, probably dreaming of one day being as
big as he is.
Many thanks for fostering Max
Love Karl and of course, Max