End the abuse: Elephant rides, circus tricks or religious festivals mean immense suffering for the gray giants.
Many people still marvel at elephants in the circus, pose with a baby elephant on their Asian vacation, or let a pachyderm carry them through the countryside - without knowing what the animals have had to suffer for it.
The sad reality is, there are no "gentle" training methods for training elephants - whether it's hauling wood in the jungle, performing circus tricks or riding elephants. The religious festivals and processions at which elaborately costumed elephants have to perform in India or Sri Lanka also involve immense torment for the sensitive pachyderms.
Those who make money from elephants in this way do everything they can to conceal the brutality with which baby elephants are broken in the "traditional" way. But there are now numerous undercover photo and film documentaries showing shocking scenes. Thai elephant conservationist Lek Chailert was one of the first to document the so-called "crush" or "phajaan" on film and bring it to light. She even received death threats because of it. The elephant lobby fears the loss of their profits.
That the cruel methods are still standard, has most recently shown a large-scale study by the organization World Animal Protection (WAP) last year. This also went through the international press - here is an article about it from the Daily Mail:
In the video, baby elephants are seen being separated from their mothers to take away their emotional support. To do this, they are each tied to another elephant and dragged away. Also seen is the desperate reaction of two mothers as they cling to their chains and scream. https://videos.dailymail.co.uk/video/mol/2020/10/22/2173075331949703611/640x360_MP4_2173075331949703611.mp4
By the way, WAP's worst abuses were deliberately edited out. They didn't want to expose the audience to too much. But just the sight of the baby elephants tied up in the so-called "crush box" - a kind of wooden gate - is almost unbearable. In one scene, despite pixelation, you can see how the blood-covered head of a baby is washed off with water. One of the instruments of torture is the sharp, tapered iron hook attached to a stick ("bullhook").
The baby elephants will never forget the traumatic experience of being helplessly at the mercy of humans. They have internalized that not obeying commands means great pain. This experience is burned in so deeply that later the mere presence of the hook or a stick is enough to revive the memory. In the circus, it works on the same principle. In training, elephant hooks or stun guns are used. When performing in front of an audience, the trainer then only has a stick or a mini-hook hidden in his hand, which is used to trigger sensitive points in the elephant. This was documented likewise cinematically, e.g. with the elephant number of René Casselly, which was to be seen unfortunately also in Germany in quite a few Christmas circuses already.
This is all more than heartbreaking, even more so if you've done some research on elephants and their way of life. The largest land creatures are highly intelligent and lead fascinating social lives. Female family members stay together throughout their lives, helping each other care for their offspring, communicating with each other in complex ways, and maintaining touching relationships. It is also known that the pachyderms mourn deceased conspecifics and visit their bones.
All this also speaks against the attitude in zoos, because there elephants can hardly live out their species-appropriate behaviors. Highly questionable are also the breeding programs of zoos. Baby elephants are attractive to the public, but their mortality in zoos is high. In addition, family members are often separated from each other to avoid inbreeding - another cruelty to sensitive animals.
It is high time to end the abuse and give the gray giants back their dignity.
Each of us can do a few things to make this happen:
- Never visit circuses or shows where elephants or other wild animals perform "tricks"
- Never ride elephants, "cuddle" baby elephants, or pose for photos
- Never attend religious events with so-called "temple elephants"
- Be informed about ethical projects *in which the animals can live out their natural behaviors before traveling to countries with elephant tourism.
- Inform friends* and family
- Sponsor a rescued elephant
- Support elephant conservation with donations
It is also a phenomenal experience to work as a volunteer ("volunteer") in an ethical elephant project - for example in Thailand. This is possible in Lek Chailert's legendary Elephant Nature Park, among other places: more than 5,000 rescued animals live there, including more than 100 elephants. Most arrived at the park severely traumatized. Watching them blossom - freed from restraints and chains - and celebrate their newfound elephant life is always a beautiful spectacle.
Such as in this video: You can see a newly formed "family" in the Elephant Nature Park consisting of two elephant mothers and their babies as well as two elephant "nannies" who take care of the little ones to relieve the mothers.
Let's hope that pictures like these represent the future of elephant tourism.
Read more on Asian elephants here:
The Asian crisis