Amnuay Singkhon is a Thai elephant Mahout working at the Hutsadin Elephant Foundation. Traditionally a Mahout starts as a boy in the ‘family profession’ when he is assigned an elephant early in its life and is responsible for every aspect of the elephant’s training and welfare. They remain bonded to each other throughout their lives. These days the arrangements are rather more flexible however the bond between mahout and elephant remains.
Khun Jackie, as he is more usually known, is 35 years old and he had been working full time as a Mahout for the past 9 years. He previously was more part time but he has been involved in this line of profession since he was 15 year old. He now lives at the Foundation in Hua Hin and his wife and child live in Aumpur Kaeng Krachan, Petchaburi Province. His wife originally come from comes from Burriram. For a while his nightly female sleeping companion was Songkran, his elephant which would cry if left alone, although now a little more independent.
Being a Mahout is a seven day a week 24 hour responsibility which leaves little private time because of this devotion. This means awaking with the elephants, usually at dawn, and spending all his day in training, feeding, washing and generally keeping his elephant happy. Khun Jackie rejects any suggestions of corporal punishment, just gentle persuasion with a sense of humour.
No concept of holidays or free time is within Khun Jackie’s grasp and really the only thing he can manage outside this profession is to arrange time with his family.
Khun Sam says that he loves being the Mahout for Songkran, his favourite elephant. He describes Songkran as cute and innocent She is also naughty in a clever way. He loves Songkran in the same way he loves his own family. He refers to this one ton family member as ‘Nong’ or sister.
It’s hard to imagine a Western equivalent to this professional devotion. Perhaps think about the life of a Mahout next time you have a ‘pet problem’!