The Crush

The traditional way of training elephants

After being separated from its mother, it is believed that the young elephant is tethered and dragged to a small 'crush cage'. The elephant's front and back legs may be bound with ropes to stretch their limbs.


Repeatedly beaten with sharp tools, the young elephant is constantly yelled and screamed at. They may be stabbed, burned and beaten, as well as starved of food and deprived of water. 


Bull-hooks may be used to stab the elephant's head, slash the skin and tug the ears. Those used for rides, circuses or other forms of entertainment often have torn ears from tissue being ripped away during the training process. They often have scars on their foreheads from lacerations caused by beatings.

This is known as 'Phajaan', or in English, 'The Crush'.


Phajaan can last from a few days to several weeks, most elephants go through it when they are 3-6 years old, but they can be younger depending on the age at which they were taken from their mothers. They have no rest from physical torture and mental domination. Gradually, their spirits are broken, as their handlers achieve control.

It has been scientifically proven that an elephant will never forget the torment endured during Phajaan.


Being controlled through the use of tools will continue regularly throughout the elephants' life to remind them of their place. 

Today, not all captive elephants in Thailand undergo such brutal training. Elephants captured from the wild are likely to undergo harsher versions of The Crush, but some mahouts are trialling positive reinforcement methods with captive-bred elephants and may use a less intense version of The Crush.  

It is also important to remember that all elephants need to be trained in order to exist alongside humans which is the only reality for the captive population due to deforestation

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