Dozens of elephants forced to perform for tourists are freed from chains
Dozens of captive elephants in Thailand are finally free to roam.
The Maesa Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai has decided to unshackle the pachyderms at its park. Animal rights activists accused camp owners of inflicting “psychological anguish” on the elephants by forcing them to perform for tourists.
The activists, who called the practice “cruel,” shed light on the attraction in November, and claimed that baby elephants had been “ripped from their mothers” and forced to learn tricks, such as painting, kicking soccer balls and throwing darts.
Maesa’s managers now allow several of their elephants to wander the grounds freely, with plans to do the same for all 77 of the animals at their park, according to executive officer Anchalee Kalamaphichit.
“The center has been criticized for a long time about how we chain the animals in here, so we decided to free them,” she said in a statement to Vital Press. “We are glad that they appeared to be happier living without chains and their mahouts, so hopefully we can free the rest of them soon.
“However, living freely is a new thing to these elephants,” she continued. “They need time to adapt into their new way of living, so we chose to start with the eldest and friendliest of the elephants.”
British animal rights organization Moving Animals, who called out Maesa’s treatment of the elephants, said the news is “incredible.”
“Their compassionate decision sends a powerful message to the elephant tourism industry and sets a clear precedent for change,” said its founder Amy Jones.
Last year, Moving Animals shared a video of elephants at the camp swaying and moving uneasily, a “clear sign of the psychological anguish they face,” it said. The video shows them being dragged by their ears and disciplined with sharp bullhooks — a tool used by elephant handlers that resembles a sharp, metal spear.
They further decried the practice of separating calves from their mothers, forced to endure “the traditional and brutal, days or weeks long, process of breaking a young elephant’s spirit.”
Jones added that new ethics guidelines from ABTA, the UK’s predominant travel association, concerning animal abuse at tourist attractions was a step in the right direction.
“We are hopeful that more and more tourist attractions will make positive changes, so that no animals have to suffer for tourists’ entertainment,” she said.
Moving Animals has called for a full ban on “unethical” elephant tours to “places like Maesa Elephant Nursery.”