FOLLOWING the death of a Scots tourist attacked by an elephant, Mimi Bekhechi says the treatment of the animals in captivity means such incidents are not unusual
Most tourists have no idea that the elephants used for so-called “joyrides” are horribly abused and that some are justifiably ready to snap.
Gareth Crowe, a Scottish tourist who was tragically trampled and gored to death by an elephant in Thailand this week, was almost certainly not aware of these facts before he mounted the roughly 8000lb animal.
It has been amply documented that elephants used by the tourist industry are torn away from their mothers as babies, confined to tiny wooden crates, deprived of food and rest, and tied down and beaten mercilessly with nail-studded rods. They even have flaming sticks waved in their faces – all to prepare them for a life of servitude in one of Thailand’s many elephant camps.
In nature, elephants stay in the company of family and friends, but those used for rides spend most of their lives chained by two legs, barely able to take a single step in any direction, swaying and bobbing their heads to try to alleviate the mental anguish caused by their captivity. Handlers control them with bullhooks – weapons resembling fireplace pokers with a sharp steel hook on the end. These barbaric devices are used to pull, prod and strike elephants in order to keep them afraid and submissive.
Despite the extreme training methods used to make elephants submit to human demands, they will never be fully tame. And just as with humans, elephants who have endured years of chaining, beatings and abuse can suddenly run amok and turn on their captors. Such incidents are not unusual – about a dozen similar deaths are thought to have occurred in Thailand in the past 15 years.
Make no mistake: this is not an industry that can ever be considered ethical. Elephants are wild animals – their nature is simply not compatible with captivity and servitude. This latest fatality is a result of having robbed these highly intelligent social animals of everything natural and meaningful to them and attempting to treat them like vehicles. Tour operators must ensure that Mr Crowe’s death was not in vain by cutting ties with elephant attractions immediately – as STA Travel has already done. And tourists everywhere must vote with their wallets by staying far away from these attractions. Because whenever animals are exploited for commercial gain, you can bet your bottom dollar they are being abused.
• Mimi Bekhechi is director of Peta.