Thailand Day 2- The Dark Side of Elephant Tourism

Guest post by elephant ambassador Leanne Fogarty currently traveling in Thailand.

Day 2 – Bangkok

The bus/catamaran to Koh Tao leaves at 6am so given my midnight arrival last night I decide to get a decent sleep and

spend one day in Bangkok. Two years ago I volunteered at ENP and became an Elephant Ambassador. That means we

tell people the dark side of elephant tourism that most visitors have no idea about. At ENP we learnt how tourism

elephants are not domesticated, but tortured into submission. They are plucked from the wild between 2 – 4 years of

age, still dependant on their mother’s milk. The baby’s mother and aunties were most likely slaughtered in the capture

as they tried valiantly to protect their precious infant. The baby is then placed in a tight wooden contraption, only just

big enough for itself, but not large enough for it to turn around. Over the next 3 – 10 days, depending on how strong

willed the elephant is, it is beaten with sticks, stabbed with bull hooks, starved, dehydrated, deprived of sleep and

screamed at. The “phajaan”, literally the “breaking” (of its wild spirit) is a centuries old practice in many countries with


An ele never forgets this trauma, and years later, just the sight of the bull hook is enough to make it obey, even to the

point of exhaustion, severe pain and mental anguish. An Ele Ambassador educates people about the cruelty and

isolation eles suffer, just so we can cross off one of our bucket list items. I say “we” because I too rode and elephant

before I knew what was involved. Ambassadors also provide a list of places in 5 Asian countries where you can have a

non-riding, positive elephant experience. Feeding and swimming with a happy, healthy elephant is far more exciting

than a jerky, one-hour ride where you can only just see the back of its scarred head.

Part of the “Phajaan” process involves hitting the elephant with long sticks that have sharp nails on the end.


Just one part of the horrific “Phajaan” process involves hitting the elephant’s sensitive areas (like its face and trunk) with long sticks that have sharp nails on the end. Source: unknown.

List of elephant sanctuaries by country.


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