Under the High Patronage of His Majesty NORODOM SIHAMONI, King of Cambodia

Our mahouts

The mahout is both the master and the « healthcare specialist » of his elephant.

A mahout is a person who rides and takes care of an elephant. The mahout usually starts as a boy when he is assigned an elephant early in its life. They remain bonded to each other throughout their lives. The word “mahout” derives from the Hindi words “mahavat” and originally from the Sanskrit “mahamatra”. The mahout sits on the neck of the elephant and communicates with him through words, gestures and feet movements. An elephant can learn thirty to fifty words.
Chey Bun Run
Head Mahout

In his early sixties Chey Bun Run is our head mahout, he is the most experienced and knowledgeable mahout in all of Ratanakiri, he has a gift, a presence that make even the most difficult elephants listen to him, which in the special case of gigantic Bokva can sometimes prove useful…

Bun Run Thlal

Thal is our youngest mahout; he is 22 years old and belongs to the Brou tribe.
Originating from a long lineage of mahouts, a son of Chey Bun Run himself, Thal was about to be a farmer because all elephants had vanished from the province. But fate had decided otherwise !
Thlal looks after Bak Maï.

Meul Hén

Meul Hén is 55 years old and belongs to the Brou minority. He is from a family of mahouts who lost their elephants during the war. He was the co-owner of an elephant sold to a tourism company in Siem Reap and then offered by the Prime Minister to the Korean government. He then worked as an elephant keeper for the same company till they were sent to Siem Reap. He looks after Bokva whom he thinks is the most difficult elephant he ever had to look after, particularly when he needs to catch him in the morning in the forest.

Kaphal Kèm

Kaphal Kèm is 37 years old and belongs to the Brou minority.
He is a brilliant mahout since he started to look after Kamsen when he was only 14 years old. When his father died, he was the only one in the family who wanted to keep the animal, the others were afraid and didn’t want to look after him and so, Kamsen was sold. Fortunately, by becoming a mahout for the Airavata Foundation, Kaphal Kèm found Kamsen again and became his mahout.

The bull hook

One first needs to know that the elephant’s dermis is 2 ½ centimetres thick; males in particular are sometimes temperamental and hot-headed, they can bolt and cause accidents. Their safety as well as the safety of the people around depends on an optimum control of man on the animals. For this purpose our mahouts use a bull hook and if the animal becomes even more agitated they use a rattan root or a mallet.
It is impossible to correctly handle a 4 to 5 tons bull without these tools.
We do not want to harm our elephants but the durability of our project cannot be compromised by accidents !

“The hook [ankus, bull hook] is the mahout’s most important tool. It should be with him at all times when he is with the elephant, and he should know how to use it in such a way as to not injure the elephant.

Young mahouts should be repeatedly told that the real purpose of the hook is not to cause pain but rather to apply strong, clear pressure to very particular control points that the elephant has been trained to react to (stop, turn left, turn right, kneel, stand still, etc.). The hook also extends the mahout’s reach – like doubling the length of his arm. The hook should be of a suitable size and design for the mahout’s hand and for the size and nature of the elephant. The head should be on tight, and the handle should be neither broken nor slippery. The point should not be so sharp as to easily pierce the skin of the elephant.”