Three year old MeBai, a young elephant in Thailand, was taken from her mother in the wild by an organization that supplies elephants for tourist rides.
To get her ready for her career carting tourists around on her back all day, young MeBai first had to undergo the ritual of making her submissive to her owners through a process called the four "C's" capture, crush, coercion and confinement.
It is a long standing tradition of "kraal" or "crush," the ritual use of abuse on wild elephants to break their spirit and force them to operate out of fear unless they behave the way their captures demand.
The century's old training to subdue MeBai and others like her involves placing her in a cage called Phajaan. It is so small she can't sit or move her head. She is starved, beaten, stuck with nails, stabbed in the ears, sleep-deprived and beaten with bull hooks.
After her training she was hired out to a tourist camp to go to work giving rides all day and not allowed to do what elephants need to do to survive, which is to eat 12-18 hours a day, consuming 200-600 pound of leaves and grass and drink 50 gallons of water a day. Instead they are forced to trek back and forth on the same path all day long, becoming dehydrated and hungry.
MeBai stopped eating and soon was no longer any use to her owners. Thankfully for her because of the Pamper a Pachyderm program, they knew her mother and were able to reunite them.
Fortunately for MeBai, her story has a happy ending as she was eventually saved from a life of drudgery by the Elephant Nature Park. (ENP). This is highly the exception.
A tourist bucket list
Often people think of riding elephants when they visit Southeast Asia as part of the tourist agenda. Most people don't realize what the elephant goes through to allow them to enjoy a ride on their backs.
This practice of crush is used in every country in Asia, according Richard Lair, an American expatriate and international relations officer for Thailand's Elephant Conservation Center in Lampang. Lair has studied domesticated elephants for more than 20 years and is author of the UN report Gone Astray: The Care and Management of the Asian Elephant in Domesticity.
The Asian elephant was historically highly revered and domesticated to be trained for working in the country. Unfortunately the population of hundreds of thousands of elephants which existed centuries ago, according to the World Wildlife Fund for Nature, estimated that between only 25,000 and 32,000 Asian elephants are left in the wild. The Asian elephant has been listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Thailand has the largest number of elephants for tourism as it has a larger population in general than its neighboring countries. Elephant extinction, unfortunately is very real everywhere. Only 3,500 to 5,000 exist today.
Because of the reduction of logging, mahouts, those who tend elephants, have had to find other ways to support their elephants. In order to do this, many go begging in the streets and turned to illegal logging and to tourism via trekking, rides or entertainment.
Many mahouts resort to abusing their charges in order to get them to work harder and longer in either giving rides to tourists or illegal and dangerous logging environments. Some will even feed their amphetamines to reduce their appetite and increase their work output. The elephants won't last for long under this treatment simply die of overwork and starvation.
Unfortunately the laws in Thailand and Cambodia are not strong enough to protect elephants from abuse. Today they are considered nothing but livestock, no different than buffalo or cattle, which are not protected against abuse. The law is rarely enforced and fines are small.
Tourists can show their support and concern to counter elephant abuse by not supporting organizations that sell rides as entertainment and instead visit legitimate elephant sanctuaries and use their tourist dollars as a donation and sign petitions to stop the abusive treatment: