Bambi’s First Steps of Positive Reinforcement Training


Due to a lack of safe facilities, Bambi’s zoo was unable to fully assess her medically, so there are many questions about her health. We suspect some kidney issues, and her weight loss is a cause for concern. She has some obvious issues with one nail and her cuticles, but she needs a more thorough evaluation of her feet and eyes. In general, she needs a full check-up and, like most captive elephants, medical care, and support. To do this safely, Bambi needs to go through positive reinforcement training.

Bambi’s comfort and confidence seems to be growing. With this, we have begun taking the first very basic steps in training. Since we can’t safely walk up to her and do certain things, we need to teach her to present her feet, eye, and other body parts when asked.

This process begins by showing her what positive reinforcement training is. To overly simplify, we teach her that if she does certain things when asked, she earns a food reward, such as pieces of fresh fruit. While fruit is part of her regular diet, she enjoys it enough that she is happy to “earn” extra fruit. There is never any punishment involved, and she is always free to walk away at any time. As we have shared with Lady’s foot care sessions, the gates are open to leave the barn, or they’re done in one of the big yards, with plenty of space to leave.

We are starting with the very basics- calm touching. The first step is teaching Bambi to place her trunk in our hands in a specific way-nostrils up, for safety. Some trainers use a “clicker,” but to keep our hands free, we use a whistle to mark when the behavior is correct. Right now, we bridge (whistle) almost as soon as she places her nose properly and gently, and immediately reward her. Once she seems to connect the specific placement of her trunk, we will extend the time a little bit on some of the placements. This ‘tiny’ step can actually be very difficult for some elephants who don’t trust in touch. Thankfully, Bambi is okay with human contact, so that is not something we have to work through.

It’s a slow process; we are doing a few very brief (2-5 minute) sessions a few times a day. These sessions consist of Bambi placing her trunk in our hands and enjoying a few treats. She’s still a little uncertain about why we are asking but seems happy to participate when asked. This process will also help with trust and relationship building as she realizes communication is a two-way street.

Photo of Bambi in Yard 5.

October 2, 2020


  1. REPLY
    Andy says


    • REPLY
      Lolita says

      Love You Bambi – You Are Extraordinary, Given Your Past…! We Love You We Feel You We See You…!

      • Alejandra Enquin says

        Querida,amada Bambi ,ahora conoceras el Respeto,el buen trato,los mimos y la confianza llegara como un balsamo podras vivir tu nueva vida relajada,cuidada y compartiendo logros con otras de tu especie.

    • REPLY
      FRANCINE A FORD says

      Food, a great motivator! Thank you to Bambi’s care givers for being so patient with her & all the other girls in your care! Sweet Bambi, you’ve hit the ele lottery by going to Sanctuary!

    • REPLY
      Rosie Hales-Tooke says

      Why is it safer to have her nostril up?

      • Kat Blais says

        harder for her to quickly grab your hand or wrist

  2. REPLY
    Alejandra(Sandy)Enquin says

    Espero Bambi que pronto puedan revisar tus valores renales y diagnosticar tu delgadez y otros chequeos,por suerte sos o estas ahora confiada en tus humanos ?intuitiva de los buenos sentimientos del equipo.Sos una tierna elefanta y aprenderas muy rapido para permitir tus sesiones curativas???

    • REPLY
      Beji says

      This brave and sweet girl has absolutely captured my heart. I check on her everyday. I hope all her dreams come true!!

  3. REPLY
    Debbie Sides says

    She’s such a good girl being a willing participant. Great that she trusts you. She’s been very brave and open it seems since she has arrived.

  4. REPLY
    Sallie says

    Trust is numero uno! And the affection that Miss Bambi has for all of you lovely care givers, gives her the confidence she needs to overcome her shyness and her health issues! She is getting there! Thank you one and all!

  5. REPLY
    elaine richard says

    Well, whatever Bambi needs, she couldn’t be in better hands.

  6. REPLY
    Kelejan says

    We as supporters are also being educated to know what is going on with the training and appreciate all the more the care that you give to these wonderful creatures. I am sure that Bambi will be a star pupil and will appreciate how much better she feels as times passes.

    If only all elephants were treated like this.

  7. REPLY
    Karen says

    Bambi is a rock star, adapting and learning at an incredible pace. And sooooo cute!

  8. REPLY
    JoAnn Merriman Eaton says

    Great progress! Wondering how you would determine kidney issues or evaluate them. Seems a very difficult task. ♥️?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      When we are able to get a blood sample, we will be able to analyze the status of her organs. To some extent.

  9. REPLY
    Maria Villa says

    Ahhhhhh, this is wonderful. Speaking, Thinking good thoughts over Bambi, and the other Girls as well.

  10. REPLY
    Nancy Nortell says

    Positive reinforcement is the only way to train. Thank you!! Bambi is looking better every day!

  11. REPLY
    arie says

    I’m sure Bambi is going to be the perfect student and I hope you can soon do the necessary tests to get a full picture of her health issues and you can start treatment as quickly as possible if needed.
    Fingers ?

  12. REPLY
    Wim says

    It will be a long and slow process but hopefully her health can still improve overall. Bambi is smart and intelligent and surely will make the right movements to finally arrive in the kitchen of TREATS. ???

  13. REPLY
    Lori Hoover says

    LOL I bet she is a bit confused. She’s probably thinking, hey………they know I like touching and all. So, they want to ask for my trunk, hold it a special way, blow a whistle, and feed me? She’s must be wondering on why the need for a whistle? Still, I think Ms. Bambi will figure it out quickly, especially if she gets any peeks at the others or once you move on to other body parts. She is amazing.

    I’ve been wondering if it’s too soon to ask about noticing any weight gain on Bambi’s part since she has come into your care? The emotional and mental changes seem immense. I was just wondering if any of the diet change has added any noticeable pounds?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      She looks like she put on weight to us, but it’s hard to say definitively at this point.

      • Lori Hoover says

        Thanks for the answer. I was thinking I saw I wee sign of some extra weight or tone already too, but as you say, hard to be definite at this point. Bambi has been a real revelation, I can’t help but hope the new diet will be a big help.

  14. REPLY
    Paula says

    Deseando lo mejor para Bambi?, agradezco a la vida que ella esté en tus manos…Rezo porque Bambi pueda ser tratada en sus posibles problemas de salud ??????

  15. REPLY
    Tammy says

    This just warms my heart hearing how the girls have learned to trust humans maybe not completely but even a little is a huge leap forward considering man is the one who horribly abused them and i can only imagine how rewarding it is to watch them blossom into free Elephants. Great job guys you are both miracle workers with each and every day seeing more progress it really shows your extreme dedication and true passion to help these beautiful gentle giants, stay well God Bless, love and hugs from Minnesota, Tammy

  16. REPLY
    Elizabeth MacIntosh says

    I have a feeling Miss Bambi will be a uniquely capable negotiator when it comes to extracting exactly the treats she wants!! LOL. Good news that her positive reinforcement training has begun, and hopefully she will feel comfortable cooperating with you over time so you can address her health needs, etc. Sanctuary has already done her a world of good in just over a week.

  17. REPLY
    Sheila says

    i hope bambi can get rid of that lumpy old skin on her forehead soon! has bambi gone in pond yet?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      Not yet. She has begun playing in the wallow, but not the pond.

  18. REPLY
    Bo says

    Patience, love, patience, love…
    Those ingredients have already done such wonders in my opinion with the elephants.
    The team have what it takes to win the trust and confidence of the elephants.
    Again, the ingredients are patience and love 🙂

  19. REPLY
    Carol Anderson says

    I have a feeling that bambilina will be a learning rock star.

  20. REPLY
    Rosie P says

    I very much appreciate all these informative posts. I enjoy learning about the elephants’ training and how you develop that trust with them through kindness, patience and respect. They couldn’t be in better hands.
    Hopefully, in the coming weeks through her training, she will allow you to take some blood and check on her weight loss and state of her kidneys. I know we all want the best for Bambi. She seems to be enjoying her sanctuary life that I hope will continue for a long time.
    Thank you for everything you do for these precious creatures. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

  21. REPLY
    Ann-Marie Jacobs-Brown says

    Gosh. Bambi is one beautiful elephant!!

  22. REPLY
    Terry says

    Bambilino, you have got this girl! You are so smart. Everyone around you wants nothing but what will offer you health and freedom. Eat,learn, and trust sweetie…

  23. REPLY
    Carey says

    Again, so much newness to learn. Never a dull moment, wonderful for her. It is shocking to realise that an elephant has lived in captivity all its life, some 50 years plus in Bambi’s case and there are no proper medical records, and elephants can be kept where there is no hope of medical care. Kaavan in Islamabad zoo is one of those, and Four Paws International vets took not inconsiderable risk with their safety to do a CITES med check inc taking blood – without any protected contact facilities. Amazing to watch on the YouTube videos, both the befriending period before hand and the actual medical. Good luck with Bambi’s training.

  24. REPLY
    Kelejan says

    Another two weeks have passed and we all hope that there will soon be positive proof that Bambi is putting on weight. Do you have a big platform weighing machine? Have you any idea of her previous weight?

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      we have a scale at the barn. we weighed her a couple of weeks after her arrival and will re-weigh her soon. but that kind of weight should and needs to come on gradually to be healthy. she was not weighed at the zoo, so we don’t have a previous weight.

Post a comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.