A Scottish man vacationing in Thailand was killed and his 16-year-old daughter was injured when an elephant they were riding snapped. Witnesses reported that shortly before the attack, the mahout (handler) had hit the elephant several times with a bullhook, a weapon resembling a fireplace poker with a sharp hook at one end. Just a week earlier, a mahout at the same facility was caught on tape hitting and taunting an elephant.
The elephant struck the mahout with his trunk and after the tourist fell off, stomped on him and gored him with a tusk. His daughter sustained minor injuries and saw her father killed before her eyes.
Thailand is the world’s largest promoter of elephant camps where the barbaric phaajaan ritual is used to break baby elephants’ spirits and force them to submit to humans. Phaajaan literally means “breaking the love between” (referring to the love between a baby elephant and his or her mother). In these training camps, still-nursing baby elephants are dragged from their mothers, bound with ropes and steel cables, and immobilized in wooden cages. They are beaten mercilessly for days while being deprived of food, water, and sleep.
It’s little wonder that so many elephants—intelligent and self-aware animals—reach their breaking point. Last August, a Thai mahout was killed while three tourists were riding an elephant. In 2014, two mahouts were killed in one three-day period in Phuket, Thailand, a tourist hot spot. And in India, a couple was trampled to death by an elephant at a wildlife reserve after the flash of their camera caused the animal to charge.
As if the possibility of being trampled or gored weren’t risk enough, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently reported that seven employees of an Oregon zoo had contracted tuberculosis (TB) in 2013 from three elephants in their care. With limited disease surveillance, the extent of the spread of elephant TB in Asia is unknown and tourists could be paying the highest price.
Tourists’ purchase of elephant rides is what drives this abusive industry. Please, if you’re traveling to Thailand, India, or anywhere else that elephant rides are offered, refuse to support this cruelty.