Tourists visiting the Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Thailand are enchanted and delighted at the Swimming Elephant show, where they get to see elephants performing tricks underwater through a glass tank. But there are some who definitely are not enjoying the show: the elephants.
In order to get these amazing and intelligent animals to perform like this, a cruel breaking of their spirits through capture and prolonged torture takes place. Only young elephants can be trained like this, so they are captured and taken from their mothers as babies. Mother elephants are often killed during the capture to prevent her from chasing after or attempting to rescue her calf. In fact, it is estimated that an average of 7-8 adult elephants are killed for every calf taken, as it isn’t just the mother who fights for the baby– it’s the whole herd.
Once the calf has been captured, it is subjected to horrible mistreatment meant to make it obedient to its trainers. The captured babies are forced into small cages, called “crushing cages” with no room to move. The elephants are starved and deprived of water for a time, and they are forcefully kept awake for days by loud noises. Throughout this time, the baby elephants are beaten and prodded through the cage bars with bullhooks– metal rods with pointed ends– and clubs.
The process of tormenting an elephant into submission has a name: The Phajaan, which translates to “the crushing”. If the baby elephant survives this torture — and many of them don’t — it is trained to entertain tourists by being ridden or performing in shows for the rest of its life.
During a zoo performance, an elephant is coerced to do tricks by its trainer, who uses a bullhook to instill fear into the animal. The trainer rides atop the elephant, pulling on its ears to signal when it’s time to dive underwater for its next trick. In the wild, elephants prefer to stand or roll in shallow waters. Diving in deep pools is not natural for them, yet they are forced to do this several times a day for unsuspecting tourists.
This horrible cruelty must end!
At Karmagawa and SaveTheReef, we will continue to use our platform and our voices to call out this cruelty until the day we see it end forever. Sign the petition to end this practice forever! Together we can help stop this injustice!
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(Cover image: Daily Travel Photos/Shutterstock)