An elephant nursery is under fire for its practice of breeding baby elephants into captivity and forcing them to become money-making performers for tourists.
Pictures and videos captured by animal rights organization Moving Animals show how trainers mistreat the baby elephants at Maesa Elephant Nursery in northern Thailand by pulling their delicate ears.
The calves raised in captivity are taken away from their mothers at the early age of 2 and forced to undergo “Phajaan,” also known as the “crush.”
According to National Geographic, “Phajaan” is a traditional process of breaking a young elephant’s spirit. The days- or weeks-long process has long been used in Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries as a way to tame wild elephants.
“Under phajaan, elephants are bound with ropes, confined in tight wooden structures, starved, and beaten repeatedly with bullhooks, nails, and hammers until their will is crushed.”
After separating the baby elephant from its mother, trainers start to confine them and train them to do tricks. Wanchai Sala-ngam, a 33-year-old breeder and trainer, told National Geographic the cruel training method used to make them sit.
“We tie up the front legs,” he said. “One mahout will use a bullhook at the back. The other will pull a rope on the front legs.”
“To train the elephant, you need to use the bullhook so the elephant will know.”
Maesa Elephant Camp, which has been in operation for 40 years, has more than 80 elephants in captivity. Tourists pay to see the calves at the “nurseries” and then head over to watch the older elephants perform tricks.
Over 20 elephants perform at the Maesa Elephant Camp which runs three times a day.
The animals entertain tourists by doing tricks, including painting, throwing sharp objects at balloon targets and performing excruciating recreations of the now-illegal logging industry by pulling and stacking heavy logs.
Apart from the cruel training of baby elephants, adult ones have also been subjected to relentless breeding.
One of the adult elephants at the camp has already given birth to six babies, the camp’s post said.
The elephants go through pregnancy for 18 to 22 months, but some of them spend most of their lives pregnant and are often forced to continue performing, according to Moving Animals’ press release.
“Our investigations across Asia have repeatedly shown that elephants continue to face relentless physical and emotional suffering to take part in rides, processions, and performances,” Amy Jones, co-founder of Moving Animals, said in a statement.
“It is heartbreaking to think that these innocent babies at Maesa Elephant Nursery are at the start of a lifetime of captivity that will feature sharp bullhooks, cruel performances, and severe psychological stress.”
Moving Animals as well as Save the Asian Elephants (STAE) are urging the United Kingdom’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to put a stop to agencies that support animal abuse.
“Travel companies are misleading tourists into supporting animal abuse,” Jones said. “To save another generation of baby elephants from a lifetime of misery, Defra must act now and ban British companies from selling tickets to elephant ‘attractions’.”
“Earlier this year we documented a performing baby elephant named Dumbo who was forced to perform until his back legs snapped beneath him and he tragically died,” Jones added. “It is heartbreaking to think that the baby elephants at Maesa Elephant Nursery could face the same cruel fate.”
Moving Animals has launched a petition to help put a stop to the cruel treatment of animals at the Maesa Elephant Nursery.
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