Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort is helping travelers experience and learn more about Asian elephants. Here, at the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation (GTAEF), head elephant veterinarian Dr. Nissa Mututanont takes care of 22 rescued Asian elephants. In addition to her veterinarian duties, she serves as an educator, helping guests achieve a greater appreciation for the elephants and the challenges threatening their existence.
Established in 2003 as a traditional mahout village, the elephant camp works alongside the GTAEF to rescue elephants from the city streets, providing employment and a comfortable lifestyle for its elephant residents and their entire mahout families. To date, the camp has rescued more than 50 elephants and now supports more than 20 elephants and 50 people.
Working with their mahouts, or handlers, Mututanont oversees the care and wellbeing of all the elephants living at the GTAEF. She ensures that they receive proper nutrition and medical attention, whilst the animals enjoy acres of land to roam, play, and forage.
“Guests get the chance to witness the playful personalities and characters of these beautiful animals that I see every day, and we hope they’ll go home with a better understanding of what we are doing here at the foundation,” Mututanont said in a written release.
At any time of day, she and the elephants can be spotted in action from the vantage point of private balconies and verandas overlooking the grounds.
Mututanont was born in the U.S. before moving to Thailand with her family when she was four. She then returned to the States at 14 and attended the State University of New York at Stony Brook before again returning to Thailand, graduating from the veterinary school at Khon Kaen University in 2015. After graduation, she was offered this opportunity at the GTAEF.
One of the newer training techniques employed by Mututanont is Positive Reinforcement Target Training, used to safely handle elephants during medical care. Using a target (a padded stick), she touches the elephant to encourage it to move its body to meet the target. Once the elephant does as she indicates, an assistant rewards him or her with their favorite treat, such as sunflower seeds. Through this positive reinforcement, elephants learn to present parts of their body, such as raising a foot for a nail trimming, for safe treatment.
“Positive Reinforcement Target Training is one of the most important parts of my work. To date we have educated over 400 local mahouts,” Mututanont said.
The elephant experiences at Anantara Golden Triangle offer a way to witness the relationship Dr. Mututanont has with the elephants and their mahouts. During Walking with Giants, guests take a stroll around the resort's grounds, at a pace set by the elephants, while Mututanont answers questions or relates stories about daily life at the elephant camp.
With the Elephant Learning Experience, Mututanont focuses more on education, discussing elephant biology and behaviors as well as the various conservation efforts at the GTAEF, followed by the chance to hand feed and bathe some of the younger elephant residents.