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Photographer Stewart, we're told in the appended biographical note, first worked among elephants as a prisoner of war on the River Kwai during World War II; he has since visited remote parts of Asia ""in order to record people and cultures before they become totally homogenized."" Here he documents the local practice of training elephants for logging work in the teak forests of Thailand--a subject with all sorts of built-in child appeal. The human focus is on young Somchai, who wants his own elephant but will always be foot mahout (second to his older brother, the neck mahout) if he stays home with the family elephant. And so Somchai goes off to the Young Elephant Training Center. There we follow the training mahouts through a typical day, as they talk constantly to their elephants, always in ""ferocious insults or loving words."" Then the six-year-old elephants arrive, and Somchai gets into the real business of training his. Stewart doesn't ignore the harsher aspects of this process (as elephants are not domestic animals like cows, they must be ""broken"" like young horses), but he emphasizes the lifelong bond between the animal and its mahout. (The two will retire together.) In the photos the elephants in training aptly demonstrate their skills with the logs and their obedience to their trainers--in one, they lie quietly in a row so the veterinarian-director can give them their shots. For readers who wonder how a mahout gets up on his elephant, there are photos showing how different mahouts have trained their ""partners"" to help them mount. A natural.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1982
Publisher: Pantheon