A Scottish man vacationing in Thailand was killed and his 16-year-old daughter was injured when an elephant they were riding snapped. Witnesses reported that shortly before the attack, the mahout (handler) had hit the elephant several times with a bullhook, a weapon resembling a fireplace poker with a sharp hook at one end. Just a week earlier, a mahout at the same facility had been caught on tape hitting and taunting an elephant.
In this most recent incident, the elephant struck the mahout with his trunk and, after the tourist fell off, stomped on the fallen man and gored him with a tusk. His daughter sustained minor injuries and saw her father killed before her eyes.
Thailand is the world’s largest promoter of elephant camps, where the barbaric phaajaan ritual is used to break baby elephants’ spirits and force them to submit to humans. Phaajaan literally means “breaking the love between” (referring to the love between a baby elephant and his or her mother). In these training camps, still-nursing baby elephants are dragged from their mothers, bound with ropes and steel cables, and immobilized in wooden cages. They are beaten mercilessly for days while being deprived of food, water, and sleep.
Elephants are wild animals—they’re not meant to be ridden by humans. Despite the extreme “training” methods used to make them submit to humans, they can never be fully “tame.” And just as a human might, an elephant who has endured years of chaining, beatings, and other abuse can suddenly “snap” and turn on his or her captors. Such incidents are not unusual—about a dozen similar deaths are thought to have occurred in Thailand in the past 15 years.
Last August, a Thai mahout was killed while three tourists were riding an elephant. In 2014, two mahouts were killed in one three-day period in Phuket, Thailand, a tourist hot spot. And in India, a couple was trampled to death by an elephant at a wildlife reserve after the flash of their camera incited the animal to charge.
In 2012, Krabi, Thailand, made headlines when a 52-year-old German tourist died tragically after falling from an elephant during a ride and her husband tumbled after her. She was rushed to a nearby hospital and later pronounced dead, while her husband barely survived the terrible ordeal.
Choose Humane Activities Instead
Support organizations such as Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand, where former captive elephants are cared for and rehabilitated. Instead of hurting elephants by paying for a ride, you can meet the gentle giants and hear the heartwarming stories of their rescues.