Investigation Shows Elephant Mistreatment in Thailand

The animals are made to perform for tourists.

elephant with feet chained together

Aaron Gekoski / Lady Freethinker

At a tourist attraction in Thailand, a young elephant appears to tug playfully on someone’s shirt. Its handler pokes it roughly twice with a bullhook. Other elephants pace, sway, and bob, which are signs of stress. There are elephants with their front feet chained together so they can barely move, and baby elephants chained to their mothers. Some of the animals have wounds or scars.

These were the findings of an investigation in Thailand by Lady Freethinker, a nonprofit animal rights organization.

“Elephants have long been exploited for human entertainment worldwide, and we'd heard of particularly egregious abuses happening in Thailand,” Nina Jackel, president of Lady Freethinker, tells Treehugger. “We wanted to witness and document any cruelty being inflicted on these sensitive, social, and misunderstood animals, and then show those findings to warn others of the reality behind these seemingly ‘fun’ attractions.”

An investigator for the nonprofit visited eight facilities in Thailand during a week-long period in August and saw dozens of elephants.

A video shows elephants kept in chains, some standing in their own waste. Handlers use bullhooks or sharp nails to get the animals to do what they want.

baby elephant chained to its mother
A baby elephant was chained to its mother.

Aaron Gekoski / Lady Freethinker

Although there are many moments of recorded abuse, one specific occasion really made an impact on Jackel.

“It was so sad to see the look of pain in the eyes of baby elephant Saan Suay, lying on the ground helpless while a man holding a stick stood above her,” she says. “This poor baby was also hit twice with a bullhook after she playfully tugged on a tourist's shirt. This young elephant deserves to live free from pain and human domination, as do all of the other elephants forced into the entertainment industry.”

There were several times that handlers were seen poking nails into the sides or heads of elephants.

“It was also particularly disturbing to see that elephants are now being stabbed with nails, presumably because these weapons can be easily hidden in the hand and away from public view,” Jackel says.

Working for Change

elephants standing in their own waste
The investigation found elephants standing in their own waste.

Aaron Gekoski / Lady Freethinker

Thailand reportedly has about 3,800 working elephants. A 2021 study from researchers at Chiang Mai University in Thailand found that 57% of elephants in tourist attractions in Chiang Mai exhibit nervous behaviors like swaying, weaving, and pacing.

At the tourist attractions, elephants are made to perform for audiences. They are forced to sit upright and spin hoops. Tourists are allowed to ride on their backs while handlers hold bullhooks to their heads or poke them with nails.

elephant with bull hook marks
An elephant has marks from a bullhook.

Aaron Gekoski / Lady Freethinker

The group has created a petition targeted to Thailand’s tourism and public health leaders, asking them to investigate the facilities and relocate the animals. So far, the petition has nearly 34,000 signatures.

“We're asking people to sign our petition urging officials to investigate these facilities and send all suffering elephants to a reputable sanctuary,” Jackel says. “We're also urging the public to avoid any attraction where elephants are forced to perform, give rides, or otherwise interact with humans against their will.”

View Article Sources
  1. Nina Jackel, president of Lady Freethinker

  2. Fuktong, Sasitorn, et al. "A Survey of Stereotypic Behaviors In Tourist Camp Elephants In Chiang Mai, Thailand." Applied Animal Behaviour Science, vol. 243, 2021, p. 105456., doi:10.1016/j.applanim.2021.105456

  3. "SIGN: Justice for Elephants Chained, Stabbed, and Forced to Preform at Thai Tourist Attractions." Lady Freethinker.