Tourists riding exploited elephants in Thailand.

Cruel Elephant Training Process “The Crush” Exposed

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Shocking unseen 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 and performing in shows.

Warning: distressing content

World Animal Protection is calling for an urgent ban on wildlife in entertainment and a complete overhaul of the way captive elephants are treated before tourism gradually resumes following the collapse from COVID-19.

The reality of elephant tourism

This undercover video exposes the hidden reality of the physical and psychological trauma of elephant training for tourist entertainment – a lifetime of horror for a “once in a lifetime” holiday experience.

There are approximately 2,800 captive elephants exploited in camps across Thailand who have undergone this cruel training. The harrowing footage was captured to document the most common practices used to break the elephants’ spirits, which is done using a range of techniques, including:

  • forceable separation from their mothers which would not happen in the wild
  • the use of a bullhook – a metal tool used to jab sensitive areas often resulting in open wounds
  • chains to restrain them in an uncomfortable narrow standing area – the crush – for days on end 
  • frequent exposure to stressful situations

This horrific treatment of elephants is carried out to make them submissive enough to be used for performing, riding, bathing, and other tourist interactions. The demand from tourism drives the demand for elephant experiences, and trainers are forced to deploy these methods.

The terrible impact of COVID-19 on elephants in tourism

    We are urgently calling for a complete overhaul of the way captive elephants are treated before tourism gradually resumes following the collapse from COVID-19.

    With the tourism industry coming to a complete standstill during the pandemic, at least 85 elephant camps in Thailand were forced to close, laying off over 5,000 staff. The remaining camps are still struggling to look after their elephants.

    Many elephants have had to trek miles across the country by foot back to where their legal owners live. Some have been allowed to roam freely to forage under supervision as their keepers have struggled to feed them.

    Sadly, for some elephants, they have been transferred to the logging industry for hard labor.

    Thanks to our generous supporters, we have been providing essential funds for 13 ethical, elephant-friendly camps across Asia to help them through this difficult time and keep their elephants fed and cared for. These elephant-friendly camps put the welfare of the animals first and do not allow riding, feeding, or bathing of elephants.

    Creating a cruelty-free, sustainable industry

    We are calling for a complete overhaul of the way captive elephants are treated before tourism gradually resumes and ultimately a ban on wildlife being used for entertainment entirely.

    As a sustainable, long-term solution, we are advocating for a captive breeding ban on elephants to ensure future generations are spared this trauma. Tourists also hold considerable power and can choose to turn their backs on unethical practices and opt instead to see elephants in their natural habitat or support elephant-friendly camps.

    For most elephants broken for entertainment, being released back into the wild is not possible, so an elephant-friendly camp is their best option. These camps work on an observation-only model, still providing jobs and a valuable income to local people such as elephant keepers, known as mahouts.

    Elephants are given the freedom to roam, graze and bathe while socializing, rather than being used for strenuous rides, kept in chains during the day, and exposed to the sun all day.

    An opportunity to build a better future 

    Audrey Mealia, our global head of wildlife said:

    “We are at a turning point when it comes to our relationship with wild animals.

    The tourism industry has come to a halt in the wake of COVID-19 but it will re-build – this is the ideal opportunity to build a better future. We are calling on the tourism industry to revise their wildlife policies and stop offering exploitative experiences to their customers.

    Right now, elephants are not being used for riding, bathing, or shows. We’d like to keep it this way.”

    Ending the global wildlife trade

    The exploitation of captive elephants in tourism is just one part of the cruel global wildlife trade, which is inflicting suffering on millions of animals, harming our health through exposure to pandemics and damaging our fragile ecosystems.

    For a better future for animals, people and planet, all wildlife trade must end. You can help make this a reality by signing our petition to the G20 below.