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Media Exposed
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Saturday , March 5 , 2011
Expose on Torturing Baby Elephants for Use in Thailand Tourism
Posted by MediaWatcher , Reader : 2906 , 13:11:26  

A baby elephant braces for a hit during a training session in a Karen village in Burma.

The training session is coined the 'crush' as its goal is to break the elephant's spirit.

Wild elephants are typically tied up and beaten for 3 days straight and left to starve.

Burmese Karen mahouts near the Thai border operate a clandestine and illegal trade network smuggling elephants into Thailand to be sold to mahouts for the Thai tourism industry.

Officials estimate that 1 Burmese elephant is smuggled into Thailand every week.

Brent Lewin / Redux Pictures

Baby elephant tortured into submission before illegal smuggling from Burma to Thailand

I see almost 10,000 pictures a day, and many document some form of suffering. Someof that suffering is incidental as people try to survive, some happens in chaotic situations, and someis intentional. But in all of it, I've never seen an image of such a deliberate infliction of misery.

What's particularly effective about this picture is the baby elephant's flinch. She knows it's going to hurt - you can see her shying away from the blow, which is the point: to cause enough pain to break her will.

Q: What led you to this story, and how did you manage to make this picture? What were any difficulties you experienced?

A: I've been working on documenting the plight of the Asian elephant and their caregivers in Thailand since 2007. It started out with following mahouts and elephants that would beg on the street in Bangkok but as the story began revealing itself it started to become clear that the business that surrounds elephants is responsible for a lot of the problems. With elephant numbers on the decline for a long time in Thailand, the supply of elephants has been coming from smugglers across the border in Burma.

I went to Burma specifically to try and photograph elephants being trained. I had a contact there from an organization in Thailand but it turned out to be a bust. We drove for hours on a motorbike through a dirt path in the jungle only to find out that training had finished a few days before. I started asking around and a local did some research and found out about a young elephant that was set to be trained. We set off on another path in the jungle and showed up and managed to sweet talk our way in. The young elephant's mother was tied up near the training device and became really uncomfortable when she saw what was about to happen. I've never heard an elephant scream like that before, it felt like the ground shook and she actually broke off her chain and charged at mahouts and myself. The mahouts eventually scared the mother into submission and tied her up again and then started training her baby. The baby elephant was terrified and started crying. The biggest difficulty I experienced was not being able to put a stop to it. There was a point when the elephant just resigned to what was happening and stood still, the life in her eyes disappeared. It was a look that was haunting.

Q: How common is this practice?

A: It's a very traditional technique and quite common but it can vary in terms of the level of violence. It's not all black and white either, some progressive camps use positive reinforcement instead of beatings. There was a time when foreigners could watch elephant training in Thailand but some negative images came out and it's almost impossible as a foreigner to see this now.

Q: Are there organizations in the region working to prevent this treatment of elephants?

A:There are some good organizations working to protect elephants in Thailand. Elephant Nature Parkand Elephant Conservation Networkare doing really good work.

Q: How can tourists visiting Thailand either be part of the problem or part of the solution?

A: Though they are rare, supporting progressive elephant tourism companies that have an interest in conservation is a good place to start. Try to avoid supporting tourism that uses elephants to perform circus tricks. These outfits almost always chain their elephants up all day separated from one another. If you see an elephant being abused speak out and tell the owner. I'm confident in the coming years elephant tourism will change in Thailand and offer an alternative model to the one in place now.

Q: What has been the response to this image?

A: Disbelief and horror.

Read comment

comment 27
catch22 date : 16/03/2011 time : 21.43

HJ - Bloody lucky you never had a beer Chang in your hand.
comment 26
happyjack date : 08/03/2011 time : 19.36

Ian, i told you once about the Baby Elephant who ran to me,at least 100 Thais ran away.I did not move, the Mother went Mad having go at anything I didt move, i had half a Beer Leo left.I can stil see the trust in both their eyes .They both stood there, there was tear in my eye.
comment 25
MediaWatcher date : 07/03/2011 time : 13.02

and what isn't mentioned is how Mother elephants are oft shot to death when they refuse to allow this.

comment 24
Ian date : 07/03/2011 time : 11.23

Plaadip. I should add that its mother is watching, elephants have a very long memory, when the time is right she will get her revenge.
comment 23
MediaWatcher date : 07/03/2011 time : 10.30

That baby is terrified and trying to escape, it is not a tickle but a painful torture, it is also not necessary. many elephants trained with kindness are used and they aren't the ones who go beserk and rampage on unsuspecting tourists.

That man should be punished, except its legal to beat baby animals .
comment 22
Ian date : 07/03/2011 time : 09.01

HJ, "Just gets angry if you look happy. ".

This makes sense, the only time a Thai looks happy is when he is getting drunk with a bunch of mates.
comment 21
happyjack date : 06/03/2011 time : 21.01

I don't want to hear no clever reasons as to why.Mr Elephant is beaten by sad Sick Asian Males..A Thai Woman never does it. Just gets angry if you look happy.
comment 20
Plaadip date : 06/03/2011 time : 20.45

c18, but I still like to eat vegitables, fish, animals etc....except the meat of human being, probably because I've never eaten it. If you let me use the signature phrase of budhist, this is the karma of us, human being.
comment 19
Ian date : 06/03/2011 time : 19.09

When a carnivore makes a kill it often plays (tortures) its victim first. Apparently this releases endomorphines (endorphines) in the brain and lysolitic enzymes in the flesh, thus tenderising it.
Peop[le who have survived being mauled by lions and tigers report no pain at the time and a form of mental euphoria.

Nothing is ever simple in nature or ethics.
comment 18
MediaWatcher date : 06/03/2011 time : 17.55

C 4 Yes , maybe it is time to stop killing others, It isn't sustainable.

C 6 Ian,

I stopped eating meat after getting to know a baby bull. I don;t buy leather anymore either. I never ate Lamb and I stopped eating port a few years ago when I saw how the pigs were transported live with legs broken so as to fit into cages.
Eating meat that has suffered might one day be shown to be very hazardous. I am still eating fish , but soon those will be depleted or so far polluted.
comment 17
wch date : 06/03/2011 time : 17.53

stick is better than metal rein into nose, metal nail into toe, metal mark to the bottock, if not sharpen spur into soft belly meat,,,, Animal needs such 'inhumane' treat to be tamed.
Eucalyptos stick in the photo is soft wood, it is just a trickly to elephant thick leather,,,,Isan people were treated by stick by Bangkok rulers and it sketch illustration is unwittingly and repeatingly shown in the local daily, Matichon. The ruler wearing leather long boots stepping on the back of Isan people and the poor begging for life,,,,,,,,,,,

It is time to rise up.
I am angry too!
comment 16
Plaadip date : 06/03/2011 time : 17.40

C15, animal? no I am a fish. Fish is not animal, right? I hope so. because even if I'm banned to eat animals, I can still eat fish.

Whale meat? I don't care much about the whale meat, because I was forced to eat the badly cooked one every week for school lanch.

Using both stick and carrot is more effective in taming animals, I guess. Karens know how to do the job more than the outsiders. Let them do what they have been doing in genertions. I'm sure they won't spoil their golden boys.
comment 15
Ian date : 06/03/2011 time : 17.04

Plaadip. 13, " they are just animals, not human beings". So you are not also an animal?
The carrot is mightier than the stick, anyone who know animals understands this. No doubt you enjoy whale meat also!

Macca, I see many Thais who are cruel to their pets, not knowingly but because they do not understand their nature. Dogs in particular are often neurotic because of the way Thais treat them. Dogs are pack animals they need firm leadership, in return they will give love and obedient attention.
comment 14
Plaadip date : 06/03/2011 time : 15.58

An interesting site.


comment 13
Plaadip date : 06/03/2011 time : 15.48

c12, arrrya, sorry I meant. "they shouldn't be so cruel as to make their life so miserable."

At the end of the day, those elephatns are not pets, so they have to be trained for their jobs to serve human-beings. Otherwise, what's use?

And even if you keep them in preservation areas or something, in case the number increse to excess, you have to cull them as it happened in Africa. And I don't mind the attempt to control their population according to our convenience, because they are just animals, not human beings.
comment 12
Plaadip date : 06/03/2011 time : 15.14

I'm not sure Karens are necessarily budhists. They could be christians or animists.

I don't have much worry about the way they treat their animals. The elephatns are the important assets for them, so they shouldn't be too cruel to make their life so msieerable. In Thai side villages, karen kids take their elephants to the water and wash them everyday. They take care of them well after the taming process is over.

What I am worring about is that they might lose their jobs because of the stupid overeaction of those animal right fanatics.
comment 11
macca date : 06/03/2011 time : 13.41

to inflict unecessary suffering on animals; or

to condone cruelty to animals for simplistic reasons such as "however they are intelligent, they are different to human beings"

These show a very low level of ethics. These also show minimal thought about the justification for suffering of animals caused by people.

Just as racism is a state of mind that degrades humanity, speciesism needs to be seen as a similar issue. How can anyone who believes in karma, think it is OK for animals to suffer, if their society causes that suffering. This applies to all cultures, some are worse than others. Most of my Thai friends are animal lovers. Boys are often cruel to animals, which is understandable when they have not learned enough to know better ways to play.
comment 10
happyjack date : 06/03/2011 time : 09.43

Looking at that Pic,i would be delighted to take the stick and thrash the Scum Human. Sick Bastard.
comment 9
wch date : 06/03/2011 time : 08.38

" I am 3 months pregnant"
She carries this warning on her forehead. Of course a young female elephant. She walks all day along and begging, for her master.

"Hey, you, woman, How many months are you in?"
Of course, street joke is being told when the couple tails the 'pregrant baby ele" 555.
comment 8
iceberg date : 06/03/2011 time : 06.16

I don’t enjoy animal shows of any kind. But for some selfish reason, I think that training animals such as cadaver dogs are OK with me.
comment 7
Plaadip date : 05/03/2011 time : 17.54

c6, but it's not a meaningless violence, it's a part of dressage. Slaughtering job is smae. We should appreciate the people engaing in the business, because they did the jop which we don't wnat to do, or we want to keep out of our sight because of some hypocrirical and selfish reasons, even though we consume the products.
comment 6
Ian date : 05/03/2011 time : 17.35

Plaadip, people eat pigs, dogs, elephants, chimpanzees (bush meat), whales and dolphins. sometime people eat people. All are intelligent feeling creatures, yet it is not the killing but the manner of killing which matters most, cruelty should not be part of the process.
comment 5
Plaadip date : 05/03/2011 time : 16.43

c4, and did you read the Dahl's short sroty called "Pig"? If you imagine the scene where a 10 years old boy are being processed in a slaughterhouse, of course, it's cruel and unacceptable, though I like the nightmarish feeling of the short story. The comparisons of a dambo with a human kid" is non sense anyway. However they are intelligent, they are different from human beings. And IMHO the elephatnts is much closer to the pigs than to the human beings.
comment 4
Plaadip date : 05/03/2011 time : 15.42

c3, Ian, is this true? If this is true, I should have a qualm when I eat pork.

"Pig intelligence
Pigs are sensitive inquisitive creatures, and have been proven to be more intelligent than most dogs and 3 year old children! They can be trained to respond to simple voice commands, and are easily toilet trained. Studies have revealed that pigs have a long memory and are able to focus on specific tasks even better than some primates."

comment 3
Ian date : 05/03/2011 time : 15.31

Plaadip, would you treat a human child this way? Elephants are just as intelligent.
comment 2
Plaadip date : 05/03/2011 time : 14.34

c1, bleeding, sorry.
comment 1
Plaadip date : 05/03/2011 time : 14.34

yeah, they sometimes use a sickle and prick the head of the baby elephant with it, it causes a little breeding but it's OK, because the kid elephants have quite strong skin. It's a kind of rite de passage for karen to tame their elephants in order for them to live with humans. I don't think it's a big deal.

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