This page is designed to give an underlying knowledge of what methods were traditionally used to train captive elephants in Thailand.
Although these training practices may still be used today, there has been a shift in attitudes, so we believe that the majority of captive elephants do not endure the same brutal treatment.
Sadly, however, many captive elephants in other parts of Asia may still endure similar treatment.
The Crush: crushing an elephant's spirit
'The Crush' or 'Phajaan' means "to divorce a baby elephant from its spirit" or to ''split the will" of a baby elephant.
Phajaan is a traditional method which originated in hill-tribe communities in India and South East Asia, used to break a young elephant's spirit and make them submissive to humans.
The 'ceremony' of Phajaan is said to have originated from the belief that a tribe's shaman can separate the spirit of an elephant from its body, driving the wilful and wild spirit out of the elephant and leaving it under the control of humans.
Positive reinforcement training
The demand for positive reinforcement training has increased, albeit slowly, in Thailand. Mahouts often use target training so their eles can receive medical care. A high fence is built to provide safety to the trainer and fruits and vegetables are given as rewards for correct behaviour. A stick is used for the elephant to learn to follow and once this has been trained, the stick then acts as a reference point for the elephant so that they know which part of their body they should present.
Although this is of course the preferred way of training an ele, it's not always easy to implement. The fences can be expensive and encouraging the locals to try something new when they have been working with their elephants for generations can take time.
The scale of brutality in elephant training varies throughout the country and largely depends on the individual elephant, the camp owners' morals, whether the elephant has been bred in captivity and what activities it will be used for.
Historically young elephants were frequently poached from the wild for the tourist trade at around 3 years old. This is far too young for a calf to be separated from its mother and often causes lasting emotional and mental distress. Poaching for the trade still exists but to which extent is unknown to us.
When young wild elephants are poached, the elephants family will often be killed as they try to protect the baby. This is witnessed by the young elephant, leaving them extremely distressed.