Let us start with the basics as this is something not everyone is aware of…the majority of elephants living in captivity, worldwide go through intense training and a spirit crushing process known as the ‘crush’ (AKA as the Phajaan) in order to be “safe” to work with humans.
Activities include elephants giving rides, tight rope walking, riding tricycles, painting, dancing, begging outside of temples, used in parades, street begging and logging!
The crush process varies in intensity depending on if the elephant is wild caught or born in captivity; it also depends on the individual elephant owner and the mahouts beliefs; are these evolving with modern times or stuck in culture and tradition?
The crush usually happens when an elephant is 3 years old; the calf is ripped away from its mother and isolated in a small wooden kraal, front and back legs will be roped tightly to each end, ensuring limbs are stretched out far.
The calf is then starved of food, water and sleep whilst being beaten with bull hooks to submission. Many elephants die through this process. In India it has been known for the crush to last up to 6 months; in Thailand it generally lasts 2-6 weeks. Gradually through physical, mental and emotional abuse and manipulation the elephant’s spirit is broken and the humans gain complete control. The elephant will continue to receive beatings throughout its life to be reminded who is in control, some of these abused elephants will eventually snap and retaliate to the torture by attacking and killing their mahouts; a recent example of this was in August 2015 at Mae Wang trekking camp, Chiang Mai where an elephant purposely killed his trainer and ran off with 3 tourists on its back.
Remember elephants giving rides, performing, stood outside of temples, parading or street begging have most probably endured this torture.
If you would like to experience an Elephant encounter than please see them in the wild on safari or at an ethical venue. Myself and Jade have put together some points to look out for, when choosing an elephant venue to visit.
The main points to look out for are:
Years of wearing a saddle with tourists on top can leave an elephant badly crippled for life. Elephants are not there for us to ride! Please do NOT engage with any venues that offer riding. If we continue to oppose these businesses, we will encourage them to establish more sustainable models that do not involve riding.
Do they offer performances?
Playing musical instruments, tricycle riding, painting, tight rope walking, dancing, and even elephant massages are all offered in tourist camps throughout Asia. None of these activities mimic natural behaviour and can be very detrimental to an elephants health. It can cause bone disorders leaving elephants disabled. The training methods behind the repeated, demanding shows can cause stress and mental impairment.
Do not visit or encourage unnatural performances given by elephants.
Do the elephants interact sociably?
Generally if elephants are denied sociable access with friends and family this will cause a great deal of stress for them. They are herd animals and should not be segregated.
Just like humans, social interaction has many positive outcomes.
For more points to look out for including: signs of a healthy elephant, where does your elephant sleep, and its ideal environment, please check out our Go-To Guide.