Photos: Elephants forced to contribute to Thailand’s tourism industry

Separated from their mothers, jabbed with metal hooks, and sometimes deprived of food -- many Thai elephants are forcefully tamed in order to use them to contribute to Thailand's flourishing tourism industry, a burgeoning sector of amusement parks offering elephant rides and performances. A tamed elephant can now fetch up to $80,000, a colossal investment that then requires gruelling hours of work and increasingly bizarre stunts to be recouped. Rights groups are working for their rights, but their questions to the authorities remain unanswered.

Updated On Dec 25, 2019 07:29 PM IST 12 Photos
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A chained elephant at the commercial Maetaeng Elephant Park in the northern Thai province of Chiang Mai. Separated from their mothers, jabbed with metal hooks, and sometimes deprived of food -- Thai elephants are tamed by force before being sold to lucrative tourism sites increasingly advertised as 'sanctuaries' to cruelty-conscious travellers. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

A chained elephant at the commercial Maetaeng Elephant Park in the northern Thai province of Chiang Mai. Separated from their mothers, jabbed with metal hooks, and sometimes deprived of food -- Thai elephants are tamed by force before being sold to lucrative tourism sites increasingly advertised as 'sanctuaries' to cruelty-conscious travellers. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Updated on Dec 25, 2019 07:29 PM IST
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Tourists take pictures with elephants at the ChangChill elephant sanctuary,Chiang Mai. Here young elephants are “broken” to interact with tens of millions of tourists who visit Thailand every year, many eager to capture social media-worthy encounters of the kingdom’s national animal playing sports, dancing and even painting. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Tourists take pictures with elephants at the ChangChill elephant sanctuary,Chiang Mai. Here young elephants are “broken” to interact with tens of millions of tourists who visit Thailand every year, many eager to capture social media-worthy encounters of the kingdom’s national animal playing sports, dancing and even painting. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Updated on Dec 25, 2019 07:29 PM IST
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An elephant having a bath before the arrival of tourists during the annual Surin Elephant Round-up festival in the northeastern province of Surin. Elephants were phased out of the logging industry about 30 years ago, leaving their mahouts unemployed. So they turned to Thailand’s flourishing tourism industry, a burgeoning sector of amusement parks offering elephant rides and performances. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

An elephant having a bath before the arrival of tourists during the annual Surin Elephant Round-up festival in the northeastern province of Surin. Elephants were phased out of the logging industry about 30 years ago, leaving their mahouts unemployed. So they turned to Thailand’s flourishing tourism industry, a burgeoning sector of amusement parks offering elephant rides and performances. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Updated on Dec 25, 2019 07:29 PM IST
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An elephant being forced to paint for tourists at the commercial Mae Taeng Elephant Park, Chiang Mai. The park receives up to 5,000 visitors per day and charges an entrance fee of about $50. Many come to see Suda, who holds a brush in her trunk and paints Japanese-style landscapes for visitors who can later buy the prints for up to $150 before taking an elephant ride through the hills. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

An elephant being forced to paint for tourists at the commercial Mae Taeng Elephant Park, Chiang Mai. The park receives up to 5,000 visitors per day and charges an entrance fee of about $50. Many come to see Suda, who holds a brush in her trunk and paints Japanese-style landscapes for visitors who can later buy the prints for up to $150 before taking an elephant ride through the hills. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Updated on Dec 25, 2019 07:29 PM IST
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Baby elephant Ploy trains to perform tricks at the Ban Ta Klang elephant village, Surin. Villagers in the village who have been working with the large, gentle animals for generations, say taming is necessary for safety reasons. “We do not raise them to hurt them... if they are not stubborn, we do nothing to them,” said mahout Charin, as he stroked Ploy’s head affectionately and spoke of her as part of his family. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Baby elephant Ploy trains to perform tricks at the Ban Ta Klang elephant village, Surin. Villagers in the village who have been working with the large, gentle animals for generations, say taming is necessary for safety reasons. “We do not raise them to hurt them... if they are not stubborn, we do nothing to them,” said mahout Charin, as he stroked Ploy’s head affectionately and spoke of her as part of his family. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Updated on Dec 25, 2019 07:29 PM IST
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Charin makes about $350 a month in a profession that was handed down from his father and grandfather. “I have always lived with them,” he added. But animal welfare advocates argue the taming technique -- where babies are removed from the care of fiercely devoted mothers at the age of two -- is cruel and outdated. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Charin makes about $350 a month in a profession that was handed down from his father and grandfather. “I have always lived with them,” he added. But animal welfare advocates argue the taming technique -- where babies are removed from the care of fiercely devoted mothers at the age of two -- is cruel and outdated. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Updated on Dec 25, 2019 07:29 PM IST
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Elephants being forced to perform for tourists at the commercial Mae Taeng Elephant Park in Chiang Mai. A tamed elephant can now fetch up to $80,000, a colossal investment that then requires gruelling hours of work and increasingly bizarre stunts to be recouped. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Elephants being forced to perform for tourists at the commercial Mae Taeng Elephant Park in Chiang Mai. A tamed elephant can now fetch up to $80,000, a colossal investment that then requires gruelling hours of work and increasingly bizarre stunts to be recouped. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Updated on Dec 25, 2019 07:29 PM IST
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Elephants forced to play football for tourists during the annual Surin Elephant Round-up festival in Surin. Of the 220 elephant parks identified across the country, even if many promise ethical tourism, “only a dozen ensure truly satisfactory living conditions”, according to World Animal Protection (WAP). It is working with ChangChill, a small organisation near Chiang Mai, bordered by a river in the middle of rice terraces. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Elephants forced to play football for tourists during the annual Surin Elephant Round-up festival in Surin. Of the 220 elephant parks identified across the country, even if many promise ethical tourism, “only a dozen ensure truly satisfactory living conditions”, according to World Animal Protection (WAP). It is working with ChangChill, a small organisation near Chiang Mai, bordered by a river in the middle of rice terraces. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Updated on Dec 25, 2019 07:29 PM IST
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Tourists ride elephants at the commercial Mae Taeng Elephant Park. In a few months, ChangChill changed its methods to give elephants more space, fewer interactions, and an environment resembling life in the wild. “We don’t force them to do what they wouldn’t instinctively do,” says director Supakorn Thanaseth. As a result, they are “less sick, calmer”. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Tourists ride elephants at the commercial Mae Taeng Elephant Park. In a few months, ChangChill changed its methods to give elephants more space, fewer interactions, and an environment resembling life in the wild. “We don’t force them to do what they wouldn’t instinctively do,” says director Supakorn Thanaseth. As a result, they are “less sick, calmer”. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Updated on Dec 25, 2019 07:29 PM IST
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Tourists watch elephants eat from a distance at the ChangChill elephant sanctuary. ChangChill hopes to become profitable in the current high season, but it will only be able to receive around 40 tourists a day to visit its six elephants as part of its aim to put the creatures first. That is a drop in the bucket when Thailand has nearly 4,000 “domesticated” elephants. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Tourists watch elephants eat from a distance at the ChangChill elephant sanctuary. ChangChill hopes to become profitable in the current high season, but it will only be able to receive around 40 tourists a day to visit its six elephants as part of its aim to put the creatures first. That is a drop in the bucket when Thailand has nearly 4,000 “domesticated” elephants. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Updated on Dec 25, 2019 07:29 PM IST
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Elephants chained at the Ban Ta Klang village. Thai authorities are reluctant to reintroduce them into natural habitats, as advocated by some NGOs, because of a lack of space and potential conflict with humans. The compromise, some argue, is to better regulate the sector and improve standards. But there is little impetus to enact more stringent rules that would cut into the Thai tourism industry, which welcomed more than 38 million visitors this year. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Elephants chained at the Ban Ta Klang village. Thai authorities are reluctant to reintroduce them into natural habitats, as advocated by some NGOs, because of a lack of space and potential conflict with humans. The compromise, some argue, is to better regulate the sector and improve standards. But there is little impetus to enact more stringent rules that would cut into the Thai tourism industry, which welcomed more than 38 million visitors this year. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Updated on Dec 25, 2019 07:29 PM IST
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Female elephants roam at the ChangChill elephant sanctuary. A committee of several animal welfare associations submitted recommendations to the government last year advocating stricter controls for elephants in captivity. But according to activist Sovaida Salwala from Friends of the Asian Elephants, an NGO who helped compile the report, their requests “remain unanswered so far”. In fact, there is some evidence the animals’ situation is getting worse. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Female elephants roam at the ChangChill elephant sanctuary. A committee of several animal welfare associations submitted recommendations to the government last year advocating stricter controls for elephants in captivity. But according to activist Sovaida Salwala from Friends of the Asian Elephants, an NGO who helped compile the report, their requests “remain unanswered so far”. In fact, there is some evidence the animals’ situation is getting worse. (Lillian Suwanrumpha / AFP)

Updated on Dec 25, 2019 07:29 PM IST
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