Video available here. [warning – explicit content]
New Delhi (25th June, 2020): Unseen footage released today by World Animal Protection shows parts of the cruel training process, sometimes known as ‘the crush’, that young elephants endure to make them submissive enough to interact with tourists.
The global charity is urgently calling for a complete overhaul of the way captive elephants are treated, before tourism gradually resumes in India, Thailand and other holiday destinations, following the collapse from COVID-19.
There are approximately 2,800 captive elephants exploited in camps across Thailand, who have undergone this cruel training. In India, over 100 elephants at the Amer Fort in Jaipur, providing joy rides to tourists undergo the same process of cruel training.
In India, elephants are still being captured from the wild to cater to the tourism and entertainment industry in places like Amer fort in Jaipur in Rajasthan. Since captive elephants have mostly been captured from the wild, no matter what the circumstances, they have endured the crush process brutality. It is time to put an end to this atrocity.
The harrowing footage was captured to document the most common techniques used to break the elephant’s spirits, which is often done using a range of techniques.
It includes the use of a bull-hook—a metal tool used to jab sensitive areas, chains to restrain them, and frequent exposure to stressful situations. This horrific treatment of elephants is 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 video makes for very difficult viewing. It includes eight individual young elephants being forcibly taken from their mothers, being tied to wooden structures while beaten repeatedly, and walking hobbled in chains, sometimes along busy highways where the thundering noises from traffic races past. The footage shows the young elephants put through both physical and psychological trauma, as they take violent blows and are clearly terrified, especially without the comfort of their mothers.
With the global tourism industry coming to a complete standstill due to the COVID-19 pandemic, elephant owners and facilities are struggling to make ends meet.
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.
World Animal Protection has been providing essential funds for 13 ethical, elephant-friendly camps across Asia to help them through this difficult time and keep them afloat.
As a sustainable, long-term solution, the charity is advocating for a captive breeding ban on elephants to ensure future generations are spared this trauma. Holidaymakers also 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 camps.
For most elephants, 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 socialising, rather than being used for strenuous rides, kept in chains during the day and exposed to the sun all day.
Audrey Mealia, Global Head of Wildlife at World Animal Protection, said: “We are at a turning point when it comes to our relationship with wild animals. For too long, these intelligent, sociable, creatures have been the victims of a cruel trade that rips baby elephants from their mothers and family groups. In the wild—mother, daughter and granddaughter, elephants spend their entire lives together.
Instead, they are destined for a life of suffering and brutality behind the scenes, cruelly exploited as entertainers under the guise of innocent fun for visitors. Tourists are duped into believing they are helping these elephants and the conservation of the species, while in reality, they are creating the demand for such activities.
We want to expose the extent of the true suffering these animals endure—a lifetime of horror for that ‘once in a lifetime’ holiday experience.
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. Although we need to enable a more humane alternative for these elephants to be cared for better.”
World Animal Protection is calling on everyone, from holidaymakers, to tourist operators, to take responsibility and put an end to the exploitation of wild animals forever—less demand will mean less elephant suffering.
World Animal Protection urges the Government of India to effectively enforce existing wildlife protection laws and stop the trade of wild animals and wild animal products.
Gajender K Sharma, Country Director, World Animal Protection India, said: “This footage is a crude reminder of the brutality, the physical and emotional trauma and the suffering that is endured by elephants. In India, elephants are revered and even worshipped. But the reality is much different. The reality is the crush process, where elephants are beaten and trained for the purpose of entertainment of humans. This must stop now. Wild animals belong in the wild.”
The charity is also calling on Prime Minister of India, Mr Narendra Modi to support the call for a global ban of wildlife trade forever when he represents the country at the G20 leaders’ summit in November.
Sign our petition here to show to demand a ban of wildlife trade and improve the lives of millions of wild animals.