I’m making this post because people need to be aware of it in order for it to stop, and though it will take time and support from millions and millions of people, it NEEDS to stop.
I spent a week at a place in Chiang Mai, Thailand called Elephant Nature Park and there I learned about the elephant culture in Thailand with details so vivid and so unimaginatively awful that made me sick to the stomach. Founded by a woman called Lek Chailert, ENP is a sanctuary for rescued elephants, as well as cats, dogs, and monkeys that were abandoned by their owners in the Thai floods a few years ago. The most impactful stories Lek told us were about the elephants.
As many of you probably know, Thailand is famous for its elephant culture. Tourists come from all over the world to ride them, to see them do tricks, to feed them, and to experience the wonderfully colorful and eccentric culture that Thailand has to offer. Many come utterly unaware of what actually goes into the entertainment they receive from the largest animals to walk the earth. So let me tell you.
These animals are tortured.
There is a process called forced breeding, where a female elephant is chained with her front legs together and her back legs wide apart so she has no means of escape. A group of bulls (male elephants) are released and commence to rape the female. This process occurs for months, even after she is impregnated, all the way up until she gives birth. It can be so physically straining that the female elephant might break her back, and so mentally traumatizing that, upon giving birth, she might kill her baby because she is so terrified for its future. Baby elephants are tortured so that they will be broken and moldable by their owners. They are taken away from their mothers far too early so that they can learn to paint pictures (elephant painting is a famous attraction for tourists in Thailand). The mahouts (elephant riders) use sharp hooks on the end of sticks to hit the elephants very hard on the sensitive skin behind and inside their ears, their neck, and their eyes. They use slingshots to shoot unwilling elephants directly into the eyeballs, more often than not with the result of blinding them. After this sort of treatment, a broken baby elephant no longer cries for its mother or nanny - it does not even recognize them. There is also a process called the Phajaan, which refers to the breaking of the elephants to do the mahouts’ bidding. One aspect of the Phajaan is the Crush. This is when a young elephant is chained into an extremely tight cage with his/her legs each to a post for days. It is constantly physically abused until its spirit is “crushed”, the will taken completely out of it, so that it can be under the mahouts’ control. Treatment as awful as this continues for the elephants’ entire life. They grow up forced to do manual labour. In a process called elephant logging, elephants must drag extremely heavy logs through forests up mountains. Lek told the story of an old elephant who had a mahout on his back and a chain around his chest with a large log attached. Deep gouge marks in his chest marked where the chain was cutting into his flesh, and he was screaming in pain but mahout continued to yell at him and hit him with the hook. Forced to continue, the chain dug even deeper into the elephant’s widening cut. There is also something in Thailand called elephant begging. Elephants are taken into large, scary, bustling cities and forced to beg for money from tourists. Many of them are hit by cars, and the city scene traumatizes them. They do not belong in cities. They do not belong at the disposal of humans.
The processes described above are just examples of what Thai elephants endure for tourism. This is what they go through so that people can sit on top them and take pictures, laugh as they feed them bananas and watermelons, or watch as they very charmingly paint endearing pictures. The processes described show just how much they endure to entertain oblivious, or else unsympathetic, humans. Videos of these events can be found on Youtube, but I think I should warn you that they are absolutely blood curdling.
I am writing about this because people NEED to be aware. I myself have ridden elephants due to my lack of education on these poor animals’ suffering, and after what I have since learned, the idea of it makes me want to throw up. I want people to understand that the elephant culture put on display for tourism has an awfully bloody background, and it SHOULD NOT be supported. I want people to understand what these elephants have suffered for humans’ enjoyment. I want people traveling to Thailand to know that they should not pay one single penny to support the elephant tourist industry. I want this information to be common knowledge, so that there is no more income for the elephants’ torturers. I want elephants to be free, as they should be.
To learn more about Khun Lek, who is probably the most inspiring person I’ve ever had the honor of meeting, and the wonderful Elephant Nature Park, which changed my life, click here.