When our group arrived at Baanchang Elephant Conservation Camp or interchangeably called Baanchang Elephant Park, our guide whom we later realized was also our trainer, introduced himself as Woody. My mind began to visualize him as a classic cartoon character called Woody Woodpecker. Woody was slim, small built with a Jon Bon Jovi hairdo and had a slightly high-pitched 西瓜卡通 nasal voice. I quickly shook off the thought as I did not want to be distracted from learning about the elephants because that was my purpose of being there.
After Woody had gone through the formalities of welcoming us and letting us introduce ourselves to the group, he asked us to change our clothing to what he was going to hand to each one of us. He carried a stack of folded clothes and started to visually size us up and handed a set of denim blue top and pants to each of us as he walked down the line we spontaneously formed. We were eagerly waiting to start the day with the elephants and to be mahouts. He told us the suit was designed according to the traditional mahout attire but I noticed there were some modern alterations like gartered waist pants instead of loose pants that needs to be tied up like a sarong which I believe would likely fall off along the way with novices like us. By the way, mahout stands for keeper or driver of an elephant.
We were provided with lockers to keep our belongings and were advised to bring with us our camera and insect repellant. It was important to be hands free without having anything heavy or bulky with us. There were two pockets on our blouse so we could keep our digital camera and insect repellant in them. I decided to keep my bulkier DSLR camera in the locker and relied on my travel partner's digital camera for the photography on this tour. We used a zip-lock bag to waterproof the camera in case of wet weather or any water activity. The locker key had a mini carabiner so we could clip it securely on our blouse button.
After we had put on our mahout attire, we spent some time admiring, posing and taking photos for each other with the mahout attire despite the fact that we looked rather ridiculous. We looked like 18th century dock laborers with our loosely fitted short sleeve top that had mandarin buttons down the middle and a three-quarter length baggy pants that had room enough at the crotch to fit a whole watermelon! We were also provided a straw hat that was fashioned like a safari hunter hat. Nevertheless, the day looked bright and sunny so we put on our sun block and assembled at the patio where the baskets of bananas were.
Later, we learned that each elephant at this camp were assigned to 3 mahouts to be cared for. The reason for this was that the elephant remembers his caregiver very well and gets very attached to him. If only one mahout was assigned and he had to leave for some days, the elephant may miss him and choose not to eat or cooperate with the other mahouts. Some of them would even fall ill from missing their personal mahout. So to keep them from having to go through such emotional 西瓜卡通attachments, they rotate the mahouts amongst the elephants so that they will be familiar with at least 3 of them. These mahouts would then be able to take leave or go back to their hometown as and when possible.
The mahouts originate from Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and all the mahouts in this camp were from Myanmar. Historically, the elephants came from Burma and were cared for by the mahouts in that region and that explains why the mahouts had come from Myanmar where they still train their people to become mahouts and have been a tradition passed down from generation to generation.