Unseen footage shows what elephants go through to be trained for tourists

Shocking undercover footage shows parts of the cruel training process that young elephants endure to make them submissive enough to interact with tourists, such as giving rides, baths and performing in shows.

Warning: distressing content

Unseen footage released by World Animal Protection shows the cruel training process, also known as ‘the crush’, that young elephants endure to make them submissive enough to be used for performing, riding, bathing, and other tourist interactions.

The global animal welfare organisation is calling for all Australian tourists to avoid captive elephant venues that offer direct interactions when tourism resumes post-coronavirus in popular travel destinations, like Thailand and Bali.

A range of techniques are used to break the elephant’s spirits, and the harrowing footage includes common practices, such as the use of a bull-hook, which is a metal tool used to jab sensitive areas, as well as chains to restrain them, and frequent exposure to stressful situations.

The video shows eight individual young elephants being forcibly taken from their mothers, tied to wooden structures while beaten repeatedly, and walking tied up, sometimes along busy highways.

The young elephants experience both physical and psychological trauma as they take violent blows, leaving them vulnerable and therefore terrified without the comfort of their mothers.  

Ben Pearson, Head of Campaigns at World Animal Protection, Australia said:

“Elephant riding and other interactions, like shows and bathing, support acute animal cruelty. 

“We want to expose the true suffering elephants endure for a lifetime just so travellers can have their ‘once in a lifetime’ holiday experience.

“Tourism has come to a halt, but it will re-build, and this is the ideal opportunity to create a responsible and resilient future for wild animals. 

“We are calling on the travel industry to revise their wildlife policies and stop offering exploitative experiences to their customers.”

Tourists drive the demand for interactive elephant experiences, and in Thailand alone, there are approximately 2,800 captive elephants that have undergone this cruel training.  

In addition to Thailand, a 2018 report by World Animal Protection documented numerous venues in Bali – one of the most popular overseas destinations for Australian travellers – that offered elephant riding and interactions, all of which had poor welfare practices. 

As a sustainable, long-term solution, World Animal Protection is advocating for a captive breeding ban on elephants to ensure future generations are spared this trauma. 

Holidaymakers 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 venues. 

Elephant-friendly venues work on an observation-only model, not allowing direct interaction between elephants and tourists, but still providing jobs and a valuable income to local people such as elephant keepers, also known as mahouts. 

For most elephants in captivity, being released back into the wild is not possible, so being transferred to an elephant-friendly venue is the best option for their welfare. 

At these venues, elephants are given the freedom to roam, graze and bathe while happily socialising, rather than being used for strenuous interactions, then chained, where they are exposed to the harsh sun all day.

World Animal Protection is calling on everyone – from holiday makers to tour operators – to reduce the demand for interactive elephant experiences, to in turn eliminate elephant suffering. 

Travellers can take the elephant-friendly pledge at: worldanimalprotection.org.au/elephantpledge.

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