Sunday, March 22, 2009

Elephant Abuse in Thailand

We often fail to think about what conditions contribute to the status of animals when we are being entertained by them. One hundred years ago, there were 100,000 elephants in Thailand. Today there are just over 2.000, most of them "domesticated." Only about 500 remain in the wild. Once known for their ability to work as beasts of burden in the logged forests of Asia, they are now used mainly as mounts for "treks" and as performers in circus acts. What has come to light are the more recent practices of "training" elephants to perform unnatural "tricks" and take riders through the forests and mountains of Thailand. Routinely, nursing baby elephants are taken from their mothers, tied by the neck and legs, then beaten continuously to "train" them to be docile and follow commands of their handlers. The most commonly used instrument used both in training, and while being ridden, is a plank with a large spike through it (known as a "bullhook"), which is driven into the forehead of the unfortunate elephant when it "misbehaves." According to well-known elephant researcher Lek Chailert--featured on National Geographic, Discovery, Animal Planet and BBC--up to 80% of the baby elephants fail to live through the torture of training. The Thai government turns a blind eye to this abuse of animals once held sacred by Thai people. Of course, it is because tourists, both Thai and foreign, pay to ride elephants and see them perform. An elephant owner can generally take in US$60 per day by selling bananas to tourists eager to snap a photo of themselves feeding these imposing giants. The fine for having an elephant in the city? $17.

When friends ask what to see when they come to Thailand, I include a list of what NOT to see. At the top of that list is "Do not patronize elephant shows," followed closely by "Do not ride elephants," and thirdly, "Do not feed elephants, especially those in the city" (which is supposedly illegal). Many elephants have been saved and now live in dignity at elephant parks (, but the abusive practice continues. If you plan a trip to Thailand, or know of someone who is, I urge you to read this again, and forward it to others. For more information, go to or For a first-hand account by a tourist, visit By forwarding this message, we can help stop this inhumane practice.


Iowa State Fans said...

This is very sad to read :( I know these type of activities occur all over but it saddens my heart to read them in print!

What can someone do to help?

John Stiles said...

Thank you for your supportive comment. While difficult to imagine being able to help so far away, you can by sending this on to others, especially those who may be considering traveling to SE Asia. Go to the web sites noted, and make a small donation to the elephant parks if you can. They do good work.

Iowa State Fans said...

Thank you I will do both :) I am glad you took the time to inform us because how do you know something like this unless someone informs you.

It is REALLY sad! Glad to help take a stand!