BOSTON — How do you manage a 4-1/2 ton elephant? You train it! How? It's like training a dog.
Historically, trainers used the "dominant elephant" method and punishment to train an elephant. A trainer would set up him- or herself as the leader of the herd - the dominant elephant who must be obeyed.
But young male elephants eventually want to challenge the dominant elephant's authority. And if the "dominant elephant" is a human, this could be dangerous for him or her.
Now, many trainers use a method where they can keep their distance from difficult elephants. They also reward the animals with bread, apples, carrots, or even jelly beans when they do what the trainer wants.
In time, the elephants respond to hand signals the way dolphins do in marine shows. "We're learning how to work with them more safely, with fewer problems for the animals," says Chuck Doyle, general curator at the Burnet Park Zoo in Syracuse, N.Y.
Repetition is also important. "Most animals like consistency," says Heidi Riddle, president of the Elephant Managers Association. "Very quickly they figure out, 'This is where I get fed, this is when I get bathed, this is when I get time to myself.' "
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society