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Elephants can paint!?!?!

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The Librarian -
James Thomas Rook Jr. -
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Guest Nicole

I hope the elephants have not suffered when being trained to do that :( 

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Snopes offers this comment. http://www.snopes.com/photos/animals/elephantpainting.asp I looked it up because I noticed that in every one of the videos of this I've seen, the guy who fills the brush with paint always stays hidden in the same place away from the camera:

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I was recently sent an email video which shows an elephant painting a picture of an elephant holding a flower over its head and was asked to comment on it. As you may or may not know, I returned home last night after my 7th trip to Chiang Mai, Thailand, where the video was shot. I can tell you with absolute certainty that elephant did not create that picture out of a need for a creative outlet. It was trained to follow the mahout’s (trainer) command and was purely following orders out of fear of the abuse it suffered during the training process.

If you look closely during the wide angle shots you will see other mahouts standing on their elephant’s left side and they too are leading their elephant during the process. The close ups show an elephant’s trunk moving a paint brush across a canvas and it appears to be creating a picture, except it is taking commands from its mahout who is out of the shot.

The training process is called the ‘phajaan’ or ‘crush’ and is centuries old and is used throughout Asia today. It involves taking a 3-year-old baby from its mother’s side and roping it into a small bamboo cage in which it cannot move except to breathe. Of course the elephant fights for its freedom and is beaten, poked with sharp bamboo, starved, dehydrated, and sleep-deprived until it submits to its captors’ demands. The process may take a week, depending on how long it takes to ‘crush’ the elephant’s spirit. About 50% of the babies die from the process and the survivors are left with physical and emotional scars for the rest of their lives.

The demand for elephant paintings comes mostly from Japan, Europe, and the US, and the motivation from the Thai people is purely financial since a single painting can fetch several thousand dollars. I honestly hope that if people knew the true process for creating a picture, they would not offer any support at all for it. So PLEASE tell your friends, family, anyone who will listen: DO NOT SUPPORT ELEPHANT PAINTINGS IN ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM!

Don't know if the training nightmare is described correctly, but the part about pulling on the elephant's ear during the painting process, does seem to be what's happening in each of the videos. A zoologist, Desmond Morris, reports the following, as reported by snopes:

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What the audience overlooks are the actions of the mahouts as their animals are at work.

This oversight is understandable because it is difficult to drag your eyes away from the brushes that are making the lines and spots. However, if you do so, you will notice that, with each mark, the mahout tugs at his elephant’s ear.

He nudges it up and down to get the animal to make a vertical line, or pulls it sideways to get a horizontal one. To encourage spots and blobs he tugs the ear forward, towards the canvas. So, very sadly, the design the elephant is making is not hers but his. There is no elephantine invention, no creativity, just slavish copying.

Investigating further, after the show is over, it emerges that each of the so-called artistic animals always produces exactly the same image, time after time, day after day, and week after week. Mook always paints a bunch of flowers, Christmas always does a tree, and Pimtong a climbing plant. Each elephant works to a set routine, guided by her master.

 

 

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