Oonboon the elephant in the crush - World Animal Protection - Animals in the wild

The Crush: cruel elephant training process exposed


Shocking undercover footage shows parts of the cruel training process that young elephants endure to make them submissive enough to interact with tourists, such as giving rides, baths and performing in shows.

Warning: distressing content

This undercover video exposes the hidden reality of the physical and psychological trauma of elephant training for tourist entertainment – a lifetime of horror for a ‘once in a lifetime’ holiday experience.

The video makes for very difficult viewing and includes eight young elephants being: 

  • forcibly taken from their mothers
  • tied to wooden structures while beaten repeatedly
  • walking hobbled in chains

There are approximately 2,800 captive elephants exploited in camps across Thailand who have undergone this cruel training. The harrowing footage was captured to document the most common practices used to break the elephants’ spirits, which is done using a range of techniques, including:

  • the use of a bullhook – a metal tool used to jab sensitive areas
  • chains to restrain them
  • 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.

Baby elephant in a low welfare venue

Baby elephants like this one are destined for a lifetime of trauma

The terrible impact of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on elephants in tourism

With the travel industry coming to a complete standstill during the pandemic, at least 85 elephant camps in Thailand were forced to close, laying off over 5,000 staff.

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.

Sadly, for some elephants, they have been transferred to the logging industry for hard labour.

Thanks to our generous supporters, we have been providing essential funds for 13 ethical, elephant-friendly camps across Asia to help them through this difficult time and keep their elephants fed and cared for.

Creating a cruelty-free, sustainable industry

We are urgently calling for a complete overhaul of the way captive elephants are treated before tourism gradually resumes.

As a sustainable, long-term solution, we are 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 venues.

For most elephants, being released back into the wild is not possible, so an elephant friendly venue is their best option. 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.

An opportunity to build a better future

Audrey Mealia, our global head of wildlife said: 

“We are at a turning point when it comes to our relationship with wild animals.

“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.”

For a better future for animals, people and planet, all wildlife trade must end. You can help make elephants and other wild animals around the world by donating today.

Donate today

This horrific treatment of elephants is to make them submissive enough to be used for performing, riding, bathing, and other tourist interactions.

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