Animal Defenders International


Animal Defenders International

Wild elephants exploited for tourist trade in Thailand

Posted: 11 July 2014. Updated: 11 July 2014


Elephants are being illegally snatched from their lives in the wild and brutally trained in Myanmar (Burma), in readiness for them to be exploited by the tourism industry in neighbouring Thailand. The shocking scale of the trade – between 3,000 and 4,000 elephants are thought to be kept captive in Thailand – is documented in a new report by wildlife trade organisation TRAFFIC.

Capture is a brutal affair, with dangerous pit-traps commonly used. It has also been reported that automatic weapons are increasingly used alongside this method; protective adult members of the herd, such as the mothers, are killed to enable the poachers to snatch the more valuable calves. These babies are then “mentally broken and prepared for training” before being sold to Thai tourist camps.

In Thailand, the smuggled young elephants will undergo a violent ritual to tame them called phajaan – sometimes known as ‘crushing’. Phajaan is a horrific process designed to “break” their spirits. The ritual will see calves bound and forced into cramped enclosures where handlers will drive spikes into their heads, beat them and deprive them of food and water. Many elephants do not survive this abhorrent practice.

Reports suggest that 50-100 wild elephants are illegally captured and smuggled to Thailand to be sold to tourist camps and hotels every year. Most end up in the tourist hotspots Chiang Mai Province, Phuket and Surin. According to TRAFFIC research, between April 2011 and March 2013, a minimum of 79 and possibly 81 elephants were illegally captured.

The IUCN estimates that the Asian elephant population has halved over the last three generations (approx. 75 years). Although the decline has historically been attributed to habitat loss, poaching for the tourist trade plays a significant role and is now considered a major threat to wild elephants.

Take action

Please avoid attractions that display elephants or offer elephant rides. It is the only way you can be sure that you are not contributing to the illegal live elephant trade and the abuse with which it is synonymous.

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