This month, “Bpee Mai” one of two young elephants supported by GVI Thailand has “come of age” and rejoined the herd after completing basic training. This is a fascinating time for the project and a unique opportunity to see how a young bull interacts with the herd as he becomes increasingly independent.
The GVI elephant herd in Huay Pakoot is made up of three adult females, two of which have young calves. Bpee Mai, born on New Year’s Day 2008, is now 4.5 years old. For just over three months he had been living in the village with his Mahout rather than in the forest with the rest of the herd. This time allowed a strong bond to form between Bpee Mai and his mahout, who is now with Bpee Mai full time.
The day he came back was full of anticipation. Would the herd accept him? Would they be pleased, defensive, aggressive? It turned out fantastically! When the elephants were reunited back in the forest, the whole herd gathered around in a cluster of trunk touching, trumpeting and all kinds of vocalizations. This was a show of social interaction more intense than anything we had witnessed to this point and was in line with behaviour of a family group in a wild herd.
The data collection and monitoring we do on this project is primarily to see whether (and how) a herd of unrelated captive elephants interact when put in a semi-wild situation where they can forage and socialize at will. The project is unique in that sense, so it is difficult to predict what the outcomes will be. It is a fascinating time watching a young bull elephant becoming increasingly mature and independent in this setting. In the wild, bulls would move away from the family group and form associations with other bulls. Will this happen here or will they remain as a herd? We will be here to find out!
For now, Bpee Mai is still engaging in play sessions with the other youngster (Song Kran), still staying close by his mother (Mahnah), and still looking up to the matriarch figure (Tong Dee) for guidance. Here on the project, we are keeping track to see if and how this model of elephant interaction is working how it may be applied or improved elsewhere in the future