Throughout July and August this year, Dave Morgan, Wild Welfare Field Director, and Margaret Whittaker, Executive Director of Wild Welfare (U.S.), returned to Sabah, Malaysia, to continue their long-term collaboration with Lok Kawi Wildlife Park.
The trip presented three exciting opportunities for the Wild Welfare team; to continue the ongoing Positive Reinforcement and Protected Contact education programme for elephant caregivers, to inspect the construction and development of Lok Kawi Wildlife Park’s new elephant cow enclosure and, to brief senior representatives from the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment on the status of the programme and the enclosure build. This trip and its training exercises are a part of an ongoing programme by Wild Welfare (U.S.), sponsored by The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, which aims to empower care staff to provide the best possible care and welfare for their elephants.
2023 marks Wild Welfare’s fifth year working in Sabah, and we are delighted to see a year of meaningful progress and training outcomes. Our Positive Reinforcement Training reached a milestone this trip, producing the first ever voluntary (on the part of the elephant) blood draw in Sabah, with young bull Ganesh. The regular screening of blood samples is an essential veterinary component in captive elephant healthcare. As part of a holistic healthcare programme, the elephant is asked to present his ear to be accessed for the blood draw. The whole process is entirely voluntary on his part; however, it does take some time to desensitise the elephant to being touched in a sensitive part of his body, and also of course, the prick of the needle going in.
Positive Reinforcement, the primary subject of Wild Welfare’s training programme in the facility, gains the voluntary cooperation of the animal through a balance of rewards and targeting, giving the elephant heightened choice and control over their lives whilst also maintaining a safe environment for caregivers. This can make welfare activities, such as blood draws, a less stressful and more positive experience for both animal and caregiver.
Margaret was particularly delighted to see the progress of young bull Ganesh in Positive Reinforcement Training:
“Ganesh was such a darling. He responded so well to all the initial foundational training and was absolutely rock solid when we did the actual blood draw. None of this could be done of course, without the professionalism and devotion to the elephants, and of the elephant team at Lok Kawi Wildlife Park. You guys are outstanding!”
– Margaret Whittaker, Executive Director of Wild Welfare (U.S.)
Low Kawi’s 14 elephants are rescue animals from human/elephant conflict situations. As a result, these animals cannot be returned to the wild, a significant commitment to their lifelong care and welfare is critical.
While in Sabah, Dave and Margaret met with a team from Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, along with Wild Welfare Director, Simon Marsh, and Animal Field Manager, Sarah Bonser-Blake. The Ministry hosted a formal supper at the Hyatt Hotel in Kota Kinabalu, attended by Permanent Secretary, Datuk Sr. Haji Mohd Yusrie Abdullah, Deputy Permanent Secretary, Ms Mary I. Malangking, Director of Sabah Department of Wildlife, Mr Augustine Tuuga, and Senior Marketing Manager of Sabah Tourism Board, Ms Josephine Chai. This presented a valuable opportunity to strengthen our relationship with these departments, ensuring their ongoing support for the programme.
The Ministry party also visited Lok Kawi Wildlife Park to inspect the progress of the new cow elephant enclosure. During their visit, Margaret gave a presentation to the party highlighting the differences between Traditional Free Contact and Protected Contact elephant management systems. The elephant team at the wildlife park also demonstrated their skills in Positive Reinforcement training, focusing on healthcare and behavioural management.
The Permanent Secretary expressed his satisfaction with progress on all fronts and thanked Wild Welfare for our involvement and dedication to the elephants at Lok Kawi.
“We would like to thank the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment and the Sabah Wildlife Department for their ongoing commitment to the promotion of Protected Contact and Positive Reinforcement Training for captive elephants in Sabah. This support is so vital to the welfare of these elephants.”
– Dave Morgan, Wild Welfare Field Director
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