This undercover video exposes the hidden reality of the physical and psychological trauma of elephant training for tourist entertainment – a lifetime of horror for a ‘once in a lifetime’ holiday experience.
There are approximately 2,800 captive elephants exploited in camps across Thailand who have undergone this cruel training. The harrowing footage was captured to document the most common practices used to break the elephants’ spirits, which is done using a range of techniques, including:
the use of a bullhook – a metal tool used to jab sensitive areas
chains to restrain them
frequent exposure to stressful situations
This horrific treatment of elephants is to make them submissive enough to be used for performing, riding, bathing, and other tourist interactions. The demand from tourism drives the demand for elephant experiences, and trainers are forced to deploy these methods.
Baby elephants like this one are destined for a lifetime of trauma
The terrible impact of COVID-19 on elephants in tourism
With the industry coming to a complete standstill during the pandemic, at least 85 elephant camps in Thailand were forced to close, laying off over 5,000 staff. The remaining camps are still struggling to look after their elephants.
Many elephants have had to trek miles across the country by foot back to where their legal owners live. Some have been allowed to roam freely to forage under supervision as their keepers have struggled to feed them.
Sadly, for some elephants, they have been transferred to the logging industry for hard labour.
Thanks to our generous supporters, we have been providing essential funds for 13 ethical, elephant-friendly camps across Asia to help them through this difficult time and keep their elephants fed and cared for.
Creating a cruelty-free, sustainable industry
We are urgently calling for a complete overhaul of the way captive elephants are treated before tourism gradually resumes.
As a sustainable, long-term solution, we are advocating for a captive breeding ban on elephants to ensure future generations are spared this trauma. Holidaymakers also hold considerable power to turn their backs on unethical practices and can opt instead to see elephants in their natural habitat or support elephant-friendly camps.
For most elephants, being released back into the wild is not possible, so an elephant friendly camp is their best option. These camps work on an observation-only model, still providing jobs and a valuable income to local people such as elephant keepers, known as mahouts.
Elephants are given the freedom to roam, graze and bathe while socialising, rather than being used for strenuous rides, kept in chains during the day and exposed to the sun all day.
These elephants live in the elephant-friendly Following Giants venue, where they are free to act naturally and tourists can observe them safely
An opportunity to build a better future
Audrey Mealia, our global head of wildlife said: “We are at a turning point when it comes to our relationship with wild animals.
“The tourism industry has come to a halt in the wake of COVID-19 but it will re-build – this is the ideal opportunity to build a better future. We are calling on the tourism industry to revise their wildlife policies and stop offering exploitative experiences to their customers.
Right now, elephants are not being used for riding, bathing or shows. We’d like to keep it this way.”
Ending the global wildlife trade
The exploitation of captive elephants in tourism is just one part of the cruel global wildlife trade, which is inflicting suffering on millions of animals, harming our health through exposure to pandemics and damaging our fragile ecosystems.