Each year, millions of tourists flock to Thailand in the hopes of interacting with Asian elephants. With popular elephant encounter options ranging from taking selfies with calves to riding on a pachyderm through the jungle, travelers are lead to believe that these excursions are normal and – worst of all –acceptable. Simply put, the facade covering up the cruelties of Thailand’s elephant trade is one that must be destroyed in order to protect the endangered Asian elephant.
In the documentary, An Elephant Never Forgets, comedian Joe Keogh illustrates the uncomfortable – but much needed – truth behind the elephant trade. Following the footsteps of British tourists in Thailand as they encounter Asian elephants, the documentary seeks to expose what occurs during training routines. Viewers are given the opportunity to view the living and working conditions of captive elephants. Check it out…
Most tourists are unaware of the abuse that elephants face when placed in captivity. After all, who really knows what an elephant is feeling … especially when they “wag” their tails like happy dogs and wiggle their ears.
Mud, dust, and dirt act as makeshift sunscreens for elephant skin. Without this protective layer of sunscreen, elephants are prone to sunburns and blisters – especially when they spend long days out in the sun with little rest or time in the shade.
When serving for the elephant trekking industry, Asian elephants are not offered the chance to bathe themselves in their mud sunscreen. Elephants are also expected to go long periods of time without eating so that they can carry larger quantities of customers during the day. It must be excruciating to carry around multiple people with a hot sunburn and an empty tummy…
Mahouts are elephant trainers who are considered to hold the “closest” relationships with calves. This, however, doesn’t say much about the abuse inflicted upon Asian elephants. Mahouts use elephants for profit in elephant trekking tours, painting shows, and street begging.
Elephants form close relationships with other family members – especially the bond between an elephant mother and her calf. Calves will stay with their mothers for around 16 years, but the elephant tourism business shatters this bond at the ripe age of six months.
Mahouts are responsible for training elephants for the sake of profit. In their eyes, the easiest way to train the pachyderms is to beat them into submission. The bull hook (a sharp metal hook attached to a long pole used to poke into animal flesh) is the popular weapon of choice in this industry as painful strikes can deter any elephant from “misbehaving.” These sharp tools are inserted into the delicate ear tissue and allow the mahout to force elephants to “play” in the ocean, and perform other unnatural, painful feats.
Elephants are incredibly social, and prefer the company of several other individuals to interact with. In Thailand’s tourism industry, elephants are chained to gates or concrete floors and are unable to reach their fellow prison-mates. Left to lead a life in pain, fear, and solitude all for the purpose of entertaining unassuming customers.
Cruelty-Free Ways to Enjoy Elephants
For all of you pachyderm lovers who would still like the opportunity to view elephants WITHOUT the abuse, have no fear! There are alternatives to Thailand’s elephant tours. Several sanctuaries exist worldwide that specialize in elephant care (ie. Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary and the Surin Project). Just remember to do your research on prospective facilities and sanctuaries, and be sure to follow the “Five Freedoms” to ensure a healthy, pain-free elephant experience.