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Posted on: August 8, 2019 at 10:11 pm

Thailand authorities are warning tourists to stop riding elephants in their country as heart-wrenching images of the beaten animals exploded on Twitter. The caption was: “You can stop inhumanity tortured on elephants by stop riding an elephant!”

The pictures in question are suspected to be from Phuket, one of the most popular vacation spots in Thailand for western tourists. They depicted elephants with scars and blood dripping down their faces while their keepers hit them with metal hooks.

These pictures were originally posted in April this year by a user called Abang Da Balik, but they recently went viral again as Thailand officials comment on them. [1] 

Elephants: A Thailand Tourist Attraction

Thousands of western tourists visit Thailand each year. One common attraction they flock to is the elephants, riding them, feeding them, and watching them perform tricks. However, tourists are not always aware that these businesses are run on animal abuse, and a spokesperson for the Tourism Authority of Thailand recently issued a statement: 

Please don’t ride the elephants and don’t support this business.

We never support tourists riding the elephants. [2]

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According to World Animal Protection, 3,000 elephants are forced into entertainment all over Asia, and 77% of them are mistreated. Thailand uses twice as many elephants in the tourist industry than all the other countries combined.

In 2016 alone, elephants gave rides to about 13 million people.

“Most tourists sign up for experiences with elephants because they love wild animals and don’t know about the cruelty behind the rides, tricks and photo opportunities,” a BBC News report said.

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“If people knew the facts, then they wouldn’t participate in cruel elephant activities.” [3]

Fighting Animal Cruelty in Thailand

Dr. Patrapol Maneeorn, a Wildlife Veterinarian of the Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation, stated that Thailand is fighting this rampant animal abuse. 

“What we are doing is collaborating with different organizations and sectors in Thailand to reduce and hopefully eliminate animal cruelty as much as possible,” he said.

Today, there are about 3,500 wild elephants and 4,500 domesticated elephants in Thailand. The wild ones are protected under national law, but the domesticated ones have no such rights and are viewed as working animals.

Dr. Maneeorn claims that government agencies are working to eliminate animal cruelty using methods like “policy-making, supporting research on wildlife, rehabilitating injured animals, and eradicating the illegal wild animal trade.”

Although the government is making strides, Dr. Maneeorn advises tourists to help stop the abuse by boycotting attractions and business that exploit elephants for entertainment.

“Travel businesses and individual tourists can help government agencies by boycotting businesses that do not take good care of animals,” he said. [4]

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Taming Wild Animals

“Breaking in” an elephant, also known as taming it, is as horrifying as the scars and bloodstains in the Twitter images.

These animals are struck with bullhooks to teach them discipline, except the abuse continues after they are beaten into subjugation. They are tied on short chains while they are hit, and are often underfed to ensure they “behave.”

Some tourists may notice elephants swaying their heads from side to side and think the gesture is playful and endearing. However, this is a coping mechanism that animals develop to fight isolation. They are separated from their mothers as babies and are taken into a life of abuse and loneliness. [5]

Elephant Sanctuaries in Thailand

Fortunately, there are organizations in the country that actively fight the cruelty to animals and oppose these abusive forms of entertainment.

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Elephant Valley is one such sanctuary. The animals can roam the grounds to their hearts’ content and they are only seen by people once a day, in contrast to ‘working elephants’ are constantly being bombarded by tourists and forced to perform for them.

“The relevant Thai government agencies are planning to remove elephants from the Working Animal list and give them special protective status in the near future, which might include new regulations on how owners can take care of and treat them,” Dr. Maneeorn said in a recent interview with the TAT.

The elephant is the country’s national symbol. In a recent blog post on the tourism board’s website, TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn wrote the animals also present a “special spiritual significance” with its deep connection with Buddhism and Hinduism.

“So, it must always be revered and well taken care of,” he said. [6]

The fight to stop elephant cruelty is still in its beginning stages, but one important element is awareness. Visitors, don’t support these abusive businesses.

Thai citizens and tourists can report suspicions of animal abuse to the Wildlife First Aid Coordination Centre or through the Wildlife Friends Foundations Thailand website.

  1. Abang Da Balik https://twitter.com/faizalghazaly/status/1116699279421165568 April 12, 2019
  2. Emma Rosemurgey. Tourists Urged Not To Ride Elephants In Thailand As Horrific Photos Emerge https://www.unilad.co.uk/animals/tourists-urged-not-to-ride-elephants-in-thailand-as-horrific-photos-emerge/ July 30, 2019
  3. The Animal Bible. Shocking images reveal the true horror of elephant tourist rides in Thailand https://www.theanimalbible.net/wildlife/shocking-images-reveal-the-true-horror-of-elephant-tourist-rides-in-thailand/ August 1, 2019
  4. Eliza McPhee. Disturbing photos reveal how elephants are beaten with bull hooks and tortured for ‘entertainment’ in Thailand https://www.msn.com/en-au/news/australia/disturbing-photos-reveal-how-elephants-are-beaten-with-bull-hooks-and-tortured-for-entertainment-in-thailand-as-australian-tourists-are-urged-to-stop-riding-the-animals/ar-AAF49pm June 30, 2019
  5. NZ Herald. Disturbing photos reveal elephant torture as tourists urged to boycott riding Thai animals https://www.nzherald.co.nz/travel/news/article.cfm?c_id=7&objectid=12254272 July 31, 2019[6] Melissa Buttigieg. Horrific photos serve as a wake-up call for tourists riding elephants in Thailand https://au.news.yahoo.com/shocking-tortured-elephant-ride-animal-cruelty-photos-warn-phuket-thailand-tourists-053924034.html?guccounter=1 July 30, 2019
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Sarah Biren
Founder of The Creative Palate
Sarah is a baker, cook, author, and blogger living in Toronto. She believes that food is the best method of healing and a classic way of bringing people together. In her spare time, Sarah does yoga, reads cookbooks, writes stories, and finds ways to make any type of food in her blender. Her blog The Creative Palate shares the nutrition and imagination of her recipes for others embarking on their journey to wellbeing.

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