Riding an elephant is a popular tourist attraction in Asia. What happens behind the scenes, though, isn’t quite as attractive.
A tourist in Thailand recently captured a young elephant going through the first stage of the “training crush,” a harsh training process that prepares elephants for work in the entertainment or labor industries, and is so named because it is literally designed to crush the spirit of a young elephant.
A months-old elephant calf is shown in the video being tied to a tree by a short rope, circling the trunk and struggling to escape. According to Wildlife At Risk International, the calf had been heard screaming earlier that week when she was taken away from her mother (WAR).
“The infant will be tethered like this for one week,” WAR wrote, adding that the calf will be fed just bananas and water, despite the fact that Asian elephant calves are not supposed to sip milk until they are two to four years old.
Though Asian elephants generally spend their whole lives with their moms, this young calf was taken from her family when she was a baby, and things are only going to get worse.
Caging the young elephants so they can’t move, forced sleep deprivation, malnutrition, and beatings or other forms of physical torture are all part of the protracted training crush process.
“The second phase is being slashed and maimed… causing suffering on this elephant child and so many others still with her,” WAR said.
While few people are aware of the suffering elephants go through before being trained to be ridden and perform feats for visitors, it is regrettably all too frequent. Almost all elephants employed for entertainment or labor are “broken” before they would work with people (even in the United States, circus elephants undergo a slightly less painful but equally visceral “training”)
“Tourists may believe that activities like elephant riding are harmless,” says Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach, World Animal Protection’s senior wildlife and veterinary consultant. “However, the harsh reality is that breaking these animals’ spirits to the point where they would engage with people requires violence at every stage.”
Unfortunately, this tiny calf is likely too late to escape the training cycle; the footage was apparently recorded in June. However, if you want to assist her and the hundreds of other elephants that remain in captivity, you should avoid any attractions that include trained elephants.
You may also donate to or visit organizations like Elephant Nature Park, which rescue elephants from the tourism and labor sectors and help them reclaim their spirits.