The Truth behind Elephant Exploitation and How you can Help


The truth behind elephant exploitation

and how you can help!


Elephant exploitation is rife in Asia. On our first visit to Thailand we were sat on the beach when an elephant with his mahout came up to us, and asked if we wanted to feed the elephant bamboo shoots. We did and then watched as the elephant passed the empty bag to the mahout. The elephant then turned around, had a flashing light attached to his tail, and we all watched them walk away thinking how cute it was.

It wasn’t until after, that we started thinking how could a wild animal be trained to do that. After some research we discovered the shocking truth about elephant exploitation, this is when we heard about the crush.

elephant exploitation

Our first encounter of elephant exploitation

The Crush

‘The Crush’ of Phajaan as it is known means “to divorce the baby elephant from its spirit” or to ”split the will” of a baby elephant.  It is done so that they are submissive to humans for the lucrative entertainment of tourists in tourist parks.

The reality is that baby elephants are taken from the wild, with the adult elephants around the baby killed. A minimum of 2 wild elephants will die as a result of one elephant being taken for the tourism industry. The elephants are tortured until it is so fearful of its human captors that it will do anything to avoid being hurt again.

Baby elephants are kept in small crates, their front and back legs bound with ropes in order for their limbs to be stretched. They are repeatedly beaten and the helpless baby elephants will be constantly yelled and screamed at. They are stabbed, burned and beaten, as well as starved of food and deprived of water. Bull hooks will be used to stab the animal’s head, slash the skin and tug the ears.

Elephant exploitation comes in many forms from elephant riding, elephant painting, and performing in circuses. These elephants have sustained many injuries whilst in captivity including broken limbs and blindness due to the brights lights they are forced to perform in. They have shredded or torn ears from their tissue being ripped and pulled away during the training process and constant beatings. They also often have scars on their foreheads from deep lacerations caused by the bull hooks.

Elephant exploitation

Example of damaged ears

We were so shocked and disappointed that we had unwittingly played a part in this elephant exploitation and wanted to find out what we could do to help, this is when we found out about the Elephant Nature Park.


Our Visit to the Elephant Nature Park

The elephant nature park is a sanctuary and rescue centre that cares for the elephants that have been abused. Volunteers and visitors are encouraged to spend time here to help fund the park and be educated.

elephant exploitation

Elephant nature park

Pick up was prompt from our hotel in Chang Mai The Centara Khum Phaya Resort and Spa. We were travelling with friends and family, 7 in total and we had our own personal guide Jan for the day who was so informative and fun.

elephant exploitation

Our guide Jan

On the way to the park Jan explained the history and purpose of the park and we were shown a video. The video showed the effects of the Crush on the elephants, the purpose of the park and the work it was doing to protect this species.

We arrived at the park and our first stop of the day was elephant feeding. Jan explained that elephants eat 25% of their weight per day, we were given a large trug of watermelons and this was just a little snack! The feeding involved a great deal of slobber and amusement.

Next stop was an area where the stories of the elephants before and after were told. It was upsetting to see the state of the elephants when they arrived at the park but so up lifting to see how how time at the park had helped to heal them.

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Education board

The elephants come with both physical and psychological problems. Daily dressing of wounds are a challenge but all done with positive reinforcements in the form of food and gentle handling by the mahouts.

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Elephant recovering from a leg injury

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Deformed leg

We passed several herds, with Jan explaining their backgrounds and behaviours before we stopped for lunch.

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Paul enjoying lunch

It was wonderful understanding the history and then seeing how happy the elephants were in this environment. This particular elephant was having a great time having a good scratch against a tree.

While we were watching the elephant scratching, the herd with the baby came past us, we then followed them to their feeding area.

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The baby, the herd and us (we are on the left!)

The whole herd were keeping an eye on the baby and everytime she wandered she would be ushered back to safety. The family behaviours were so human like, it was incredible to watch.

elephant exploatation

Feeding time

To end the day we were taken to the river. Here we were able to clean the elephant by throwing water over her, she was happily munching on watermelon as we covered her in water. We all managed to get soaked, and had a wonderful experience.

Visiting the Elephant Nature Park today has been one of the best days, to get so close to these magnificent creatures was just amazing. The stories behind each elephant who have been abused, some blinded, and mentally tortured was very moving. We would definitely recommend a visit to this park.

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This is what its all about a happy elephant

So here is how you can help – share this with your friends, on facebook, twitter, pinterest and any other social media that you use. We are trying to highlight this issue and how all of us, as tourists can help reduce this elephant exploitation.

If there is little demand for performing/trekking elephants, then the demand for such savage training techniques will hopefully die out. So before you ride an elephant, watch it paint or go to the circus please think again, tourists need to be educated so that they can chose to spend time with these magnificent creatures in environments where they are cared for and not abused, such as the Elephant Nature Park.

For more information do visit the Elephant Nature Parks website here and their Facebook page here.

Thanks for reading!

What are your thoughts on elephant exploitation? Are you aware of other parks that do excellent work like this too? We would love to hear your comments below.

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Here are some travel accessories that we recommend for your visit to the Elephant Nature Park – our EC Technology travel bank to keep your camera’s and phones charged so you can take lots of photos, water shoes for fun in the river and a dry bag to keep all your property secure and dry. Click through to Amazon to buy for your trip now.

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About paulandcarole

Sharing our love of travel and cruising, hoping to inspire you along the way!
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69 Responses to The Truth behind Elephant Exploitation and How you can Help

  1. This is an excellent post and I fully encourage everyone to read articles such as this, especially if they want an animal encounter. Elephants share many emotions similair to humans as I have witnessed it myself and it’s so sad that this happens to be their “downfall” in the tourist industry. Everyone needs to be educated about all animals in the tourist industry to stop such horror stories for the future! #feetdotravel

    • Thanks Angie. They really are human like in their behaviours, it was wonderful to watch. This was such a fantastic experience, and I hope our post helps to get the message out there.

  2. Poor animal are suffering because of people entertainment. And it doesn’t end with elephant, people are abusing monkeys and wild cats (like lions and tigers) as well. I read once that wild cats are actually drugged while people are taking photos with them, so that they can’t hurt people, disgusting really.

    • It is a real problem. Your right, why people think it is acceptable to feed tigers milk without realising they are drugged for their entertainment is unbelieveable. Lets hope we can educate others with spreading this message.

  3. Wow … A bit shocked by what I just read.
    Do you think the same “technique” is used everywhere ?

    Will definitely pass the news !

  4. jenn | By Land and Sea says:

    This makes me so sad! I don’t see how people can treat animals like this and it’s really eye-opening as to what goes on behind the scenes. The more people know about this stuff, the more we have the ability to stop this treatment. Sharing across social media (again!)

  5. Tracy says:

    I was reading a blog the other day by someone who took an elephant ride when on their holiday and mentioned it in their post. I was totally aghast that anyone thinks this is ok in this day and age. Then a friend told me she was going swimming with dolphins in a park on holiday and I realised that unfortunately some people are not in the same place as us – they seem to think this abuse of animals is ok. But then I think actually the last thing these people are doing is actually THINKING. Articles such as this are what people need to read to educate themselves so that next time they say no to elephant rides or tiger or dolphin or any other animal ‘experiences’ Great post – will definitely try to visit when in Thailand.
    Tracy recently posted…A Virtual Cuppa – March 2017My Profile

  6. Kreete says:

    Well done on this article Carole! This is something I am very passionate about and it’s great to see someone else is too! Will definitely be sharing all over social media!

  7. Anna says:

    Great job on this article Carole. I do know about the cruel treatment of elephants and it’s so heartbreaking to know that this is happening just for tourism. And so many people don’t know about what really goes on and continue to encourage this industry. I went to this park too and heard the stories about the elephants’ lives before coming here, and it is just so sad. There were elephants forced to continue to do logging work even when their legs have broken. I’m glad these elephants were rescued but there are still so many more that are not :(.

  8. Travel Lexx says:

    Thanks for sharing this and doing your bit for animal conservation. It’s a really important topic to cover and educate other travellers about. I made mistakes with animals while travelling in Thailand in the past but realise how stupid I was in retrospect. Your post highlights important ways of how visitors can help out while getting close to these majestic animals. Thank you

  9. Garth says:

    I think so many tourists have been duped in the past, it’s all about education, and articles like yours are just what we need, so everyone can read what is really going on, and what part they can play to help elephants and still interact with them. We went to a similar sanctuary in Thailand, it’s so good to see tourists going to these places instead. Great post guys.
    Garth recently posted…Mekong DeltaMy Profile

  10. Wow, we have heard a bit about this over the years. I would love to go there and help the elephants when I go to study Thai massage. I’m going to forward this to my mom so we can add it to our Thailand trip list. Incredible post, that must have felt so good to feed the elephants watermelons 🙂
    Scarlett Begonias recently posted…Hiking Spotlight: McKenzie River TrailMy Profile

  11. Oana says:

    Great post, Paul and Carole! I skipped elephant riding on my Thailand trip because I found information like this before hand. I wish all the people could read this before taking selfies or riding animals that are exploited for money. Thank you for taking time writing this post!
    Oana recently posted…Discover Basel in 48 hoursMy Profile

  12. Only By Land says:

    This park sounds like Battersea dogs home, just for elephants! I have been reading a lot recently about elephants being treated badly in Thailand, especially Pattaya. Unfortunately the people making money out of them can use this money to bribe the police and nothing is changing. Hopefully international awareness will bring about the change needed.

  13. Annalise says:

    We’ve just got back from a week in Chiang Mai where we went to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary for a day. It was so hard to choose one where we could trust that they looked after the elephants and didn’t abuse them in anyway. They openly admitted that they used to do elephant rides but have now changed their ways and the elephants seemed so happy and relaxed when we visited. This one and the one you went to were our top two choices when we were looking at reviews. It’s awful that Thai law doesn’t seem to do enough to protect their animals from tourism (tigers and monkeys included) and there are probably so may awful things that happen behind the scenes. Thanks for sharing such an informative article!
    Annalise recently posted…A Flying Visit To PhuketMy Profile

  14. So hard to see, and impossible to imagine. Thanks for shining a light. It seems like elephants could be great tourist attractions just as is – so big and smart and, as you pointed out, oddly human. Never understood the need to abuse them to turn a profit. As word spreads, maybe we can make amends for those who have wronged these gentle giants.
    Rob+Ann @TravelLatte(.net) recently posted…Top 8 Travel Tips to Get a Quiet Hotel RoomMy Profile

  15. Great article. They look so happy when they are playing and being bathed. Thanks for writing such an eye opening article.
    Siddharth and Shruti recently posted…The Jungle Book Tour in GoaMy Profile

  16. David says:

    The treatment of elephants in the name of tourism is horrific and I feel like I’ve only just started to realise how horrible it is in the last year thanks to blogs like this. It’s always good to hear of the actual sanctuaries that look after the animals after the trauma they’ve suffered. Thanks for sharing.

  17. Leigh says:

    Thank you for helping to spread this message! I also visited Elephant Nature Park last year and am now a crusader in sharing the message whereever I can. I feel the same about swimming with dolphins and turtles in captivity. There are better ways to have wildlife encounters!

  18. Lolo says:

    I’m not going to lie, I wanted to ride an elephant for the longest time, but as I came a more serious travel blogger and reading blogs I learned the terrible truth and it saddens me so much, that now I can’t even imagine doing such a thing, and am sad so many people still do it and don’t know what it costs in order for them to do that! Thanks for linking up with #TheWeeklyPostcard!
    Lolo recently posted…The Weekly PostcardMy Profile

  19. Upeksha says:

    It’s such a sad story, but so prevalent in so many countries. Thank you for sharing your story – the more people who know, the better chance we have to end this cruel practice! #theweeklypostcard

  20. Thanks for this post. We need to read more posts like this one! Thank you! #TheWeeklyPostcard

  21. Anisa says:

    Wow, I did not realize how bad the exploitation is. The first part of your blog was really difficult to read. Glad you found a place that really cares about elephants. Thanks for sharing on #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    • We didn’t either until we starting visiting Thailand and unfortunately this problem is worldwide. This was an incredible and emotional experience and we hope that this post will help get the message out there. Thanks for your comment.

  22. jo says:

    It’s heartbreaking to read of the methods used to train these wonderful animals. I’d love to visit the elephant nature park, you can see the happiness of the elephants on their faces! I think bathing an elephant would be a huge experience for my kids. If I visit Thailand I will be sure to only engage with elephants in a responsible way. #WeeklyPostcard

  23. Kat says:

    Thanks for sharing this post, it’s very educational and I hope it brings more awareness among travellers and tourists not to partake in elephant rides or entertainment. I, too, unwittingly, contributed to this as a tourist in Thailand many years ago (I think it was 2004 or 2005) – visited a park and elephants performed stupid tricks for our amusement and entertainment. I had wanted to ride on an elephant in Siem Reap in 2010 but never got a chance. I’m glad that ride never happened. It was only a year ago that I found out about the cruelty against elephants and since then I vowed never to go for elephant rides. #TheWeeklyPostcard

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  25. David says:

    Such a heartbreaking topic and it’s always good to see posts like this promoting the places that actually are trying to look out for the animal’s best interests. Sharing this on my socials 🙂

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  29. Sarah says:

    Yes! So many times these elephant camps treat their elephants so poorly. I’m pretty sure there aren’t many that are ethical

  30. Good to see more and more people are discussing this topic later. I want to comment based on my experience in Thailand many years ago. When I visited the country (about 8 years ago), there was not a lot of information about what was really going on certain elephant camps. Thailand has no liberty of expression. The government controls the mediums. Only a few locals and tourism companies are going to tell you things like they are (and that is dangerous for them). I remember my tour guide saying elephants were not abused in the country. She painted a very different story from what we are hearing nowadays (and she is part of a well known company based on the US). A lot of what we know is because of independent mediums and people who have seen the situation (like bloggers). My point is that we should continue to share these topics with kindness and empathy. It is not like everybody is aware or should know about this. I have discussed this with several friends and they are shocked once they hear and see the facts.

  31. It’s all about education so getting this info out there is vital to protecting these amazing creatures. Thanks for taking the time to share this with us.
    Shona @ recently posted…Vietnam: Getting To Know Hoi An Ancient Town!My Profile

  32. Shocked and sad. like all who thought about animals as victims of entertainment. I guess we should explain that to our children from early childhood.

  33. Thanks for raising the awareness of this serious issue in Asia. Many are ignorant about this fact. When I heard about it, I never want to ride on an elephant. The torture humans put these animals through are unthinkable. I’ve heard of how they chained elephants and beat them. I went by a few of such places while in Thailand and Sri Lanka. I am glad to hear about a sanctuary for these poor animals. Similar to this is the donkeys in Santorini. Ill-treated and loaded with immense amount of weight (tourist luggage) and offering rides, donkeys are also suffering in Santorini and possibly other places as well. I’m sharing your post on twitter. Hope more will read about this and not support this industry.

  34. Marcelle says:

    It’s very good that you put your finger on this issue and rise awareness about the exploitation of elephants. I’ve sat on elephants myself when nobody was talking about this yet. I’ve visited a camp in Sumatra where all the elephants were chained in a field, horrifying! And that on a so called eco-tour! To show the bad AND the good examples will probably improve the situation.

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  36. Sharon says:

    Really is a double-edged sword, how do you protected and preserve elephants?

    Cheers Sharon…
    Sharon recently posted…PowerBreather Swimming Snorkel – Laps & snorkeling will never be the same!My Profile

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