Thailand is a popular touristic destination, visited by thousands of western tourists every year. Elephants are among the most common attractions, and tourists ride them, feed them, and watch them perform tricks.
However, Thailand authorities are warning tourists to end these practices, as this April, a user called Abang Da Balik, posted heartbreaking images of the beaten animals on Twitter, with a caption: “You can stop inhumanity tortured on elephants by stop riding an elephant!” and the post quickly went viral.
The pictures are believed to be from Phuket, one of the most popular vacation spots in Thailand, and the elephants showed in them have scars and blood dripping down their faces while their keepers hit them with metal hooks.
A spokesperson for the Tourism Authority of Thailand recently issued a statement claiming that they do not support tourists riding the animals and advised them not to support this business.
Asian elephants are an endangered species, and experts estimate less than 2000 wild elephants are living in Thailand. The rapid decline of the population is mostly due to loss of habitat.
Yet, Illegal capture and trade for use in the tourism industry dramatically contribute to the decline. This industry thrives as foreign visitors pay good money for the privilege to ride elephants or watch them do tricks.
Most tourists aren’t aware of the cruelty behind the rides and tricks elephants perform, so they sign up for such experiences as they love wild animals.
However, elephants need to be tamed before they can be ridden, and the taming process if extremely brutal and aggressive.
In order to be tamed, elephants are struck with bullhooks, beaten into subjugation, and tied on short chains while they are hit.
Wild elephants do not let humans ride on top of them, so wild elephants are tortured while still a baby, to entirely break the spirit. The process is called Phajaan, or “the crush”, and it involves ripping baby elephants away from their mothers and confining them in a very small space, where they will not be able to move.
What’s more, the baby elephants are kept starved and deprived of sleep for days, and beaten into submission with clubs, and pierced with sharp bull-hooks.
World Animal Protection reports that 3,000 elephants are forced into entertainment all over Asia, and 77% of them are mistreated. Moreover, Thailand uses twice as many elephants in the tourist industry than all the other countries combined.
According to Dr. Patrapol Maneeorn, a Wildlife Veterinarian of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, Thailand is fighting this rampant animal abuse, by collaborating with different organizations and sectors, and using methods such as policy-making, supporting research on wildlife, rehabilitating injured animals, and eradicating the illegal wild animal trade.
He also added that Thai government agencies intend to remove elephants from the Working Animal list and give them special protective status soon. This might also encourage new regulations on how owners can take care of and treat them.
Yet, he also claims that tourists can help by boycotting these attractions and businesses.
Today, there are about 3,500 wild elephants and 4,500 domesticated elephants in Thailand, and while national law protects the wild ones, the domesticated elephants are considered working animals.
Fortunately, some organizations oppose these abusive forms of entertainment and actively fight cruelty to animals.
The elephant is the national symbol of Thailand, and TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn said that they present a “special spiritual significance” with its deep connection with Buddhism and Hinduism, so they must be well taken care of.
Therefore, if you plan to visit Thailand soon, make sure you help the fight to stop animal cruelty and don’t support these abusive businesses.
Report animal abuse to the Wildlife First Aid Coordination Centre or through the Wildlife Friends Foundations Thailand website.