The international non-profit organisation, World Animal Protection, has released distressing video footage that blows the lid open on the cruelty involved in the use of Thai elephants for the tourist trade. The footage, secretly filmed at several unnamed camps over two years, shows how elephants are beaten into submission so they will perform tricks for tourists.
The training begins when baby elephants are forcibly taken from visibly distraught mothers, who never see them again. In one instance, the footage shows one female elephant, Gintaala, who has had each of her four calves taken from her one by one. Roatchana Sungthong, the World Animal Protection’s country manager, says such forced separation is cruel.
“Elephants, they are together. They walk in herds and they look after each other. So, doing things like that is very inhumane.”
The baby elephants are transported to camps where they are chained up in isolation and undergo physical and mental abuse on a daily basis. The charity says such practices are intended to break an elephant’s spirit to the point of total submission, where it will agree to spin hoops with its trunk, painting on canvas, or walking on its hind legs – all typical of the tricks performed for tourists at “elephant shows” around the country.
The practice of breaking the elephant’s spirit is known as the “crush” (phajaan, in Thai) and involves forcing them to walk with chained legs, hitting them with bull-hooks, and taking them onto busy highways to instill fear and submission. The charity has collected footage of 8 elephants being put through this training at various camps.
Speaking to Reuters, Thailand’s environment minister, Varawut Silpa-archa, says such practices will not be tolerated. He adds that if the footage is real, action will be taken, urging anyone with information to come forward. Meanwhile, the owner of one elephant camp north of Bangkok, dismisses the footage as “staged.”
“Those video clips are fake, and it was a setup. Who would do such things? To me, there is no reason to do that.”
World Animal Protection insists, however, that the footage is real and not a set-up.
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