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'Elephant assisted therapy' for drug users

( 04/02/2011 )

A rehabilitation centre in Thailand is using 'elephant assisted therapy' to address a gap in treatment for clients who have co-occurring disorders, where drug addiction meets mental health problems.

'Breathing Space' in Chiang Mai, Thailand, has added elephants to its holistic approach which also incorporates relaxation techniques, Yoga and Tai Chi. It will use the attributes of elephants to help individuals in their recovery process.

Individuals experiencing conditions such as mood or anxiety disorders alongside drug addiction are rarely offered treatment with a dual focus, despite substance addiction often arising as a symptom of underlying psychiatric diagnoses.

Ian Lyons, psychotherapist at Breathing Space, said that the Elephant Nature Park had been chosen for its "conservation mindedness".

"Its focus is upon elephants that have been abused or have had traumatic experiences, and that may have developed maladaptive behaviours as a result of this, not unlike the personal experiences of many of our clients," he added.

"It is a parallel recovery process for both client and elephant."

Research published in the Journal of Psychiatric Services demonstrates that a dual diagnosis rate for patients presenting for substance abuse treatment is 79%. However, only 8% of them receive simultaneous treatment for both addiction and co-morbid psychiatric conditions - meaning an underlying problem is potentially left unresolved.

The programme comes after research, currently under peer review, where autistic children were found to benefit from elephant contact. The Thai Elephant Therapy Project studied the outcome of three weeks of therapy which involved children learning about and riding the elephants, as well as caring for them.

No Guinness for polo elephants

The iconic book of Guinness World Records will no longer contain any references to elephant polo, after the UK branch of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) highlighted cruel practices in the sport.

Elephants used in polo matches are beaten with sticks and gouged with heavy rods, and left to stand in the sun with no shelter after being taken from their families, PETA warned Guinness.

According to the charity, Craig Glenday, the editor-in-chief of Guinness World Records, wrote to PETA, promising that "we need to review all our records involving animals and ensure a strong stance on any involving even the hint of cruelty".

PETA vice president of international operations Poorva Joshipura added: "Elephants belong in the wild, not on polo fields."

However, players of the sport in Rajasthan reacted to the news by voicing concerns that the move would be ineffectual in preventing cruelty.

"I agree with the concern. But why not take it up in a more concrete manner?" Himmat Singh Badla told The Times of India.

"What we lack is proper training methods when it comes to familiarising the animals with the respective games," he added.

"We should train people who do this formally. Rajasthan has a long tradition of elephant polo, so, how can we forget the age-old tradition of the state?"

Why did the elephant cross the road?

The answer is a tunnel on the Cape to Cairo Highway - Africa's first dedicated elephant underpass, which connects the high-altitude forests of Mount Kenya with the lower plains.

Bull elephant Tony reportedly made use of the 15ft (4.5m) high tunnel within days of its completion - and he is now a repeat customer. He has been caught on camera leading a small band of males through the structure beneath the A2 road.

"All over Africa this incredible wildlife is increasingly being fragmented by the growing human population, and if African wildlife is to survive, solutions must be found of this nature, where connectivity is preserved through corridors," said Iain Douglas-Hamilton, founder of Save the Elephants, which used GPS tracking to ascertain movements of the animals.

"This is a major breakthrough for ecosystem conservation in Africa," he added.

 

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