Once you learn that elephants have to endure horrendous abuses before performing tricks, painting pictures and giving rides, you may think twice about embarking on any of these elephant-related activities.
Elephant tourism is the biggest moneymaking trade in Southeast Asia, particularly Thailand, where over half of its elephant population is kept by humans, for the purpose of entertaining tourists.
But, little is known about what most of these elephants have to go through, in order for them to be usable for elephant tourism.
In a video posted by Circa, a baby elephant was going through a torturous age-old “training” process, known as “phajaan,” or elephant crushing, which originated from the hill tribe communities in India and Southeast Asia.
The poor elephant was kept in an enclosure with its legs bound with ropes. Sharp spikes and heated nails are repeatedly stabbed into its head and body. An elderly man is seen sitting on top of the elephant with a pickaxe, whacking it into the elephant’s head.
Such tormenting and cruel methods, which not only include beating, but also depriving elephants of food and drink, are deployed to crush the wild elephants’ spirit, or break their will. Such grueling training processes typically last for several days or weeks, or until the elephants submit to the humans.
This brutal training process was long kept in the dark until Sangduen “Lek” Chailert, co-founder of Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand, spoke up on behalf of these suffering elephants.
Lek, and volunteers at her 250-acre elephant sanctuary, are helping raise awareness about the dark realities of the elephant-tourism industry.
“When I see a lot of them suffer, I choose to speak for them,” said Lek, who reveals that 85 percent of the elephants in her sanctuary arrive with mental problems.
Lek enjoys singing to the elephants that she has brought in, and her singing helps relax them. There’s a video of her singing to a 7-year-old elephant called Faa Mai. The gentle giant is seen slowly lying on the ground, obviously feeling safe and comfortable listening to Lek’s lullaby, before flapping its ears, curling in its trunk, and nodding off.
“It became my mission to make Elephant Nature Park a home for the elephants where they would feel safe, where they can receive love and stay away from abuse,” she said in an interview with Green Global Travel.
Through her work, Lek also wants to spread the message that tourists should, “whether they are traveling to Thailand or another country, they should respect the animals and not exploit them.”
“The tourists expect quite a lot from elephants. And when the tourists expect … then their business has to go into competition. I don’t blame people for elephant riding because they didn’t know,” she said.
According to thailandelephants.org, not all captive elephants are inflicted with such horrendous abuses. Whatever the case, the kind of terrible torture revealed in the video clip is still widely used in Thailand, India, and Southeast Asia.
Lek advises how you too can help these elephants: “Spread the word on behalf of the animals. They need a voice.”