The Protected contact PC was intensively developed with dangerous elephants during later 1900, and has an increasing tendency, but was in fact used before in Asia. Many wild-caught elephants went through a stadium of PC, at least in South India were the elephants were kept in cages called Kraal after capture. In those first stages of training, the trainers would approach the elephants from outside, through the bars, presenting food or sweets, in order to gain the elephants confidence.
Protected contact is sometimes refered to as a more humane method of maipulatiing the elephants in captivity, since the free contact system more or less relies on the fact that the elephant is accepting to be dominated by the trainer, like it does with an animal higher in rank within the elephant group. For laymen, it seems unlikely, or impossible, that an elephant would accept a human being as a superiour dominant individual, without major brutality and fear for that human.
This is however, not true, and Protected Contact is a term which doesnt really describe the training situation.
The most important difference between protected contact and free contact, is tNOT that the elephants, or the trainers/keepers, are protected, in PC. More than one keeper has experienced the risk with this system, and more than one elephant, harassed by other elephants, without any trainer interfering, has experineced the truth, that it is actually a non Protected contact system. At least for the elephants.
IN PC, the elephants are not proteced at all. Noone can interrupt aggressivness, mobbing, or other unnormal behaviour between the elephants. The keepers/trainers can only try to make the elephants focus on something else during a conflict, but thay can not actually interrupt it, as in free contact.
The "Protected contact" can be described as a working environment where an elephant trainer or keeper is cut off the social interactions within the group, since he, or she, is not more a member, and leader, of that group. The elephants are more or less left to their own, and the keeper/trainer only perform manipulation that has a medical reason, or for intensive care, or as stimuli. But, it has to be clear, unlike to free contact, an elephant trainer in protected contact, can NEVER protect an elephant from other elephants.
Some people may actually refer to this system, as leaving your children to a kinder-garten, where their no staff guiding them, exept for opening the doors, and letting all the kids in in the morning, and opening the door in the afternoon, letting them out. And meanwhile, trying to manipulate them in some ways, through a cute little window, mostly after that the individual has been isolated in a closed environment where no other elephants can disturb the training.
This type of training, can be very useful, and sometimes the only alternative with dangerous elephants. It should be higlighted, that the a lot of the content of protected contact training is performed in free contact. In fact, the pure teaching of elephants in free contact, can mostly be compared to a PC situation. It is the later handling, that involves a certain dominance, which is supposed to secure the security for the keeper, as well as giving the possibilty to interract in the social system of the heard, as leader, if necessary, that is peformed with dominance.
It is however, very sad that the PC is slowly forming a standard of training, because of pressure of animal rights groups. PC is a valuble and useful way of training elephants sometimes, but is also a primitive way of approching the problem that some humans doesn not accept that elephants are dominated by humans, and therefore argue for more "humane" methods. No scientific document is presently a proof that elephants in PC are more healthy, or more "happy" than well cared elephants in free contact.
It must also be noticed, that, although a football fan, or theatre visitor can be very engaged, and have opinions in how a ball, or a play at the opera should be played, the performence maust be left to the actor. Anyone who never played football, or was on theatre or opera stage, are entitled to have their opinion how those things should be done. Claiming exepertise though, just becasue of frequent visiting, is something else. If every person, travelling with air, would demand to also be able to order the pilot how to fly, bad things would happend.
During the last 20 years, more accidents with elephant happened than before. It is not because theres more elephants in captivity. Its not becuse theres less education of keepers/trainers. Its not because theres so mouch intensive training of elephants. It may, however, have a connaction to the fact that hundersd of people try to manipulate the humans working with elephants, without really having the slightest idea about the reality, reagrding the relationship between a human bing and an elephant. It is to hope that this development will not include Police officers, doctors, pilots, and other people who need to take decissions daily, in order to maintain a certain control of their future safety in their profession.In Europe in 2003-2004, the AZA elephant TAG carried out a survey, showing that 81% used FC with EM, and 61% used FC with LA. PC was used in 11% with EM, and 16% wit LA. No contact was used in 8% with EM, and 22% with LA.
"It was generally accepted at the AZA elephant TAG meeting in 2004 that the best management method for the elephants and the keepers is the Protected Contact method. [...] It should be remembered that the fall-back recommendation of the EAZA Elephant TAG is protected contact."
EAZA-News 47, july, august, september 2004. (Elephant special)