Family traditions for mahouts of Asian elephants

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12 Scopus citations


The mahout and elephant relationship is one of the oldest human-animal relationships, possibly beginning as far back as 5,000 years ago. Valued for their assistance in war and work, elephants were trained and managed using methods described in ancient Indian texts. The lifelong job of mahouts historically had a long apprenticeship, and was passed from father to son. In 1973, when the government in Karnataka, India, assumed ownership of the maharajah's elephants, Hindu and Muslim mahouts with their elephants were relocated to national forests and became employees of the Forest Department. Members of honey-gathering tribes (called tribals) began to be offered government jobs as mahouts. To assess the current patterns of family traditions with elephants among mahouts living within Nagarahole National Park, India, sixteen mahouts and four young assistants were interviewed, representing Hindu, Muslim, and tribal families. In all three cultures, almost all had been introduced to elephants by a father or other male relative; the mahouts' sons expected to be mahouts. Mahouts' sons regularly assisted and played an essential role in the management of female elephants. No examples of injuries to children were mentioned by mahouts, yet some mahouts and villagers had been killed or seriously injured by elephants. Family tradition played a major role for Hindus, Muslims, and tribals in the decision to work with elephants. The semi-captivity of, and traditional, structured work activities with, Asian elephants may afford some possible improvements for their welfare and human-elephant conflicts

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)34-42
Number of pages9
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2000


  • Animal training
  • Domestication
  • Elephant
  • Mahout
  • Tradition
  • Welfare

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Science (miscellaneous)
  • Anthropology
  • veterinary(all)


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