The latest accident in Thailand’s elephant tourism industry resulted in the death of an elephant keeper and a rude awakening for tourists.
During a jungle tour in Chiang Mai on Wednesday, an elephant reportedly “went berserk” killing its driver and running off into the jungle with a Chinese family of three on its back, reports the AFP.
Police reports show the incident occurred at 9:30 a.m. local time.
Colonel Thawatchai Thepboon, police commander of Mae Wang district in Chiang Mai province, stated:
“The mahout who was killed was Karen and he was not familiar with the elephant. [The tourists] are safe now.”
The Karen are an ethnic group with an estimated 1 million individuals living in Thailand.
Channel 3 reported that the elephant was not at ease with its new keeper and attacked him unexpectedly, goring him to death.
The Chinese family, a mother, father and young child, were brought to safety after other elephants and their keepers on the tour pursued and soothed the elephant. Footage from the channel shows the three terrified tourists being guided back to camp while still on the elephant’s back.
Elephant riding is a popular tourist attraction in Thailand. Elephants are often captured and traded illegally for the industry, which has left only an estimated 2,500 elephants in the wild.
The approximately 4,000 domesticated elephants are tamed at a young age through often torturous methods that break their spirits. The baby elephants are essentially beaten into submission with clubs and deprived of food and sleep.
Animal rights groups and activists have heavily criticized the unethical and immoral aspects of the elephant industry in Thailand. This is not the first accident to have occurred — in June, an elephant killed two men as they were eating dinner at a beachside resort.
Edwin Wiek, a campaigner from Wildlife Friends of Thailand told AFP:
“Elephants work every day, of every month, basically 365 days per year.
“If you had to do the same, you would get stressed. It is the same for elephants. At some point they become crazy and we can’t control them.”