The Asian elephants-driver partnership: the drivers' perspective

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18 Scopus citations


Elephant drivers, sometimes termed mahouts, are known to share a relationship with their elephants rarely matched in other human-animal interactions with regard to time invested, extent of cooperative activity, and everpresent risk to the driver. An investigation of this relationship was pursued at two tourist lodges in Nepal where elephants are used to transport tourists into a nearby jungle to view wildlife. The study sought to investigate the drivers' perceptions regarding the individual and social behavior of the elephants, the perceptions of the elephants, and the elephants' interactions with drivers. Standardized open-ended questions were administered with translator assistance to 17 head drivers of elephants. Drivers attributed their management success to the time and care they invested in caring for and becoming familiar with the elephant. Drivers worked in partnership with elephants to gather and prepare the elephants' food. Elephants responded to vocal commands of drivers for saddling. Drivers also took responsibility for elephants in their varied interactions with tourists. Although drivers varied in specifying the most desirable elephant at their lodge, they highly agreed on the identity of the worst elephant because of its aggressivity. In general, drivers believed that their elephants loved and trusted them. Most drivers reported that their elephants did not get angry with them. Yet, they knew that elephants would most like to be free in the jungle. Drivers presented consistent information as to the elephants' social preferences for and dislikes of one another.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)297-312
Number of pages16
JournalApplied Animal Behaviour Science
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1994


  • Animal training
  • Domestication
  • Elephant
  • Mahout

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Animal Science and Zoology
  • veterinary(all)


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