Day 5 started early, as usual, with breakfast, followed by some time feeding the elephants in front of the 'Sappraiwan Center.' The students then rode the elephants back into the jungle, and gave them a bath. Prasop, an expert elephant trainer with over 30 years experience and head of our camp, talked about the various plants found in nature and how they can be used to make an 'elephant spa.’ The students went on a nature hike through the jungle to attempt to collect the useful plant species that exist in the natural environment. Later, the students got a lesson in horticulture and how to plant sugar cane. Then, they took turns using a hoe to dig a hole in the garden and then plant the sugar cane. They were able to plant an entire garden area of sugar cane, which was a big help to the mahouts (who normally need to do this difficult physical labor on their own). After lunch, the mahout sensei gave further instructions on how to train elephants using a method he calls 'positive therapy,' and the students got to take turns utilizing this method with the elephants, which involves giving the elephants positive reinforcements or rewards to get them to accomplish a needed task. Later in the afternoon, the mahouts taught the students some very funny traditional mahout games, including 'cucumber soccer.' In the late afternoon we were driven into the nearest town to visit a local road side market and sample the local produce and check out what was on offer. After dinner, it was back to the mahout camp for a closing ceremony in which every student was given a certificate of completion and gratitude was shown both to the students and to the mahouts. Each mahout presented the certificate to the students they worked with, and the students also shared how they felt about their elephants. This closing ceremony was a pleasant and fulfilling way to close out the amazing experience of the elephant conservation project.
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