Elephants are some of the most intelligent and social animals living on this planet. They live together in close-knit matriarchal herds where the oldest female plays the dual role of leader and mentor to a herd of daughters and their calves. Just like humans, elephants are deeply emotional, empathetic creatures. Herd members who are experienced mothers are known to help first-time mothers raise their young. They also mourn the deaths of their loved ones. In spite of how similar these gentle giants are to us, elephants are terribly exploited for human greed.
Asian elephants suffer greatly at the hands of Thailand’s elephant tourism industry. Baby elephants are torn from their mothers at an early age and forced to endure a breaking period known as “Phajaan.” Baby elephants who undergo this process are forced into tiny crates, have their legs or necks shackled, and are repeatedly abused with sharp objects called bull hooks — the same tool that many circuses use in order to intimidate elephants into performing unnatural feats for entertainment. Once complete, the elephant’s trainer leads them out of their restraints and shows them kindness, making the animals trust their captors. Elephants who undergo this are typically used in the tourism industry – trained to give paying customers rides on their backs or perform other ridiculous tricks.
In one particularly cruel event called the King’s Cup, which takes place each year in Bangkok, Thailand, 30 Asian elephants are forced to take part in a game of polo (the most recent game took place in February 2017). Each elephant is ridden by two humans, one who uses the polo stick and one who uses a bull hook to control the elephant. Oh, the best part of all of this – they are chasing a tiny ball around a field in order to raise money for conservation. Yes, you read that right, conservation.
The event organizers claim that the elephants used for the game are treated well because they give them fresh fruit, vegetables, and massages. But that act of benevolence is not good enough when the elephants have no choice but to participate in an event that causes them both pain and distress.
In the video below, which features a game that took place this year, we can see that the elephants are forced to move in certain directions by having the sharp end of the bull hook driven into their ear.
The fact that spectators are willing to write a check to save elephants while watching elephants who are unwilling captives speaks volumes to how we view these creatures. They are for entertainment first and considered worthy, valuable beings second.
Like “scamtuaries” across the globe that brand themselves as consciously minded organizations that raise conservation awareness, this event is, plain and simple, exploitation. No organization would ever seek to drive a profit by forcing their animals to perform for humans, whether it is posing for photos or being forced to take part in a cruel, unnatural game.
Lead image source: UNREAL WORLD™/YouTube