Thursday, 9 April 2009

Elephant Cruelty in Thailand, Phajaan Ceremony.

I wrote about the ivory trade that is taking place in Thailand and the failure to enforce the agreed CITES agreement that was signed in 1993. Also Thailand’s laws are full of loopholes that can be bypassed using false documents. The use of domesticated ivory is legal but the use of ivory harvested from wild animals is illegal. If you want to read the entire post then please click here.

When I was researching about the ivory trade I came across something that was very depressing. Of course the Thai government denies that it happened on Thai soil but were Karen people in the Myanmar border region of Thailand. You can read what the Thai government and PETA say on the video.

The video is of a ritual called ‘Phajaan’, this is where elephants are weaned away or after watching the video tortured, beaten into submission. Their souls are broken over a period of a week or more. If you want to watch this video you can click here and do so. I do warn people that it isn’t a nice thing to see.
Elephant in Crush Cage
Photograph by Jennifer Hile

The elephants usually go through this around 7 or 8 years of age. The baby’s mother is removed from the area before the ceremony as the young elephant screams for her. Villagers rope the elephant’s legs, which isn’t easy and terrifying for the elephant. The young elephant is ushered into a tiny cage like a corral.

The elephant is bound and unable to move at all and is left like this for many days, crying out for help and absolutely terrified. This isn’t the worst. The worst is the torture that comes along with being bound up.
Elephant being jabbed with nails
Photograph by Jennifer Hile

Villagers drive sticks with nails into the elephants flesh; they have trouble retracting the nails from the tough hide. The villagers laugh while the elephant bleeds and cries out for help that is not coming.

In the video a man sits on the elephant and drives a sharpened hook into the skull of the elephant, right between its eyes. The thudding noise is sickening. The man has to work the hook back and forth to remove it from the skull of the elephant.

He tells the elephant, speaking in Thai, ‘Don’t fight us and we won’t hurt you.’ While he does this he lifts the hook and spits on it and again drives it into the elephant’s skull.
Thai Elder
Photograph by Jennifer Hile

This happens to the elephant for days, people jab it in the ears with sharpened hooks, in the legs and so forth. The animal is left sleep deprived, not feed or given water and is petrified. They apparently do this as a 90 year old elder said; "Only one way to do this, not any other," he explains firmly. "If elephant doesn't go though this, elephant can't be tamed."
Elephant being roped
Photgraph by Jennifer Hile

The young elephant is eventually released from the cage but not the torture; it will be tied up and beaten to a pulp. All this is to make them submissive to their owners.

A century ago there were apparently 100,000 elephants in Thailand, now it is believed that there are around 2,500 wild and 2,500 domestic elephants left.

Sadly for a country that is meant to love these animals so much its laws are sadly lacking. Years ago laws were meant to have been toughened but still nothing has been finalized.

Domesticated elephants are considered livestock, like a buffalo, chicken and so forth. For abuse this brings only a very small fine.

A renowned elephant activist here in Thailand who is doing amazing things for abused, maimed, and abandoned elephants. She witnessed and also filmed an owner who was drunk set the elephant on fire and burnt it to death. The man was never fined or anything for this act of cruelty.

So when you are in Thailand and see what I call ‘sympathy elephants’ begging for food and performing tricks; remember that they more than likely went through the horrible separation ritual called ‘Phajaan’.

I cannot stress to you to not feed the elephants in Bangkok or anywhere else in Thailand. Elephants do not belong in a city. Do not support the people who are making these beautiful animals’ lives miserable. Politely decline the bag of food and no matter how sad the elephant looks be brave and just look away.

Only if tourists stop feeding them, then the mahouts will take them out of Bangkok, hopefully then they will be released into the care of some amazing people who are trying to save the Asian elephant.

I will hopefully be able to introduce an amazing lady who is helping the abused, lost and mentally tortured. I am hoping to travel a few thousand kilometres away to her sanctuary and interview her and also learn about her plight and also meet the elephants she has saved so far.

Also the lady whose pictures I have used, Jennifer Hile is an award winning documentary maker; you can see links here if you would like to see her work across the world.



AngryIrishman said...

right on again, mr. brunty. but what i see is that with the elimination of any viable economic value to elephants, there will soon be 0 domestic elephants and 0 wild elephants in thailand. there will be a surplus of ivory tho. can't win for losing. truthfully, farm life is hard on farmers and harder on their livestock. almost no more water buffalo these days, just used for steak now, not much for farming. in fact, one of my wife's favorite snacks while growing up in ubon was dung beetles. now dung beetles are getting rare! not enough dung!! apparently they don't thrive on oil drippings. so feel sorry for these poor creatures, on the other hand life in the "wild" consists of dodging poachers and live land mines. all best. AI

Vern said...

Wow - that's how they break an elephant? Holy shite! That's sick stuff man... my sister will be on a plane over here as soon as I show her your post.

I'll stumble this and digg it and see if that helps bring some people to see this article - great work Jason.

Carrie said...

This breaks my heart. I thought elephants were revered in Thailand.

Incidentally, you've been really busy with your blogging lately. Great job, Brunty. Keep up the good work!

Brunty said...

AI, the government were meant to implement laws years ago to virtually make elephants worthless but this hasn't happened.

The problem with wild elephants is their habitat is getting destroyed at an alarming rate even though so called logging was banned many years ago.

farmers are killing wild elephants that raid their crops for food and also wild elephants are entering remote villages looking for food and water.

There are some excellent programmes in place in Thailand that are helping abused elephants.

The iron buffalo has taken over from the traditional buffalo and dung beetles are I am sure in decline. What do they taste like?

Vern, I was horrrifed at teh story and researched this a lot as I didn't want to just have some wildlife group doing the hearsay thing.

It is documented in news articles and stories where people have witnessed the Phajaan and it really is depressing. I have always been against the sympathy elephants.

When I see them here in Ubon and how sad they look it does hurt me and makes me sad but I will never support the people who keep them.

If tourists could only see and know that not buying the 20 Baht bags of food and going on elephant rides will make these people retire the elephants from this horrible way of life.

Carrie, I really did have tears in my eyes at times when I was researching this subject. Finding articles by respected journalists and documentary makers and what they had witnessed was heart breaking.

Elephants are meant to be revered in Thailand but I think many turn a blind eye to what is really happening.

Thanks for commenting everyone.

MJ Klein said...

this is another good example of how things really aren't what they're cracked up to be in Thailand. revered..... ha. btw, i was afraid to watch the video.

Anonymous said...

i wish i could do the same to these people, i decided not to watch the video either. Humans are sick

Annette Green said...

please sign this petition

Annette Green said...

Also, angry irishman, there are alternative methods to train elephants. They may not give rides or live painful degrading lives for our entertainment, but millions of people can walk with them and bathe them in rescue sanctuaries. There is a growing trend for ethical consumerism, and doing the right thing, is essentially the only way to sustain their economic value.

The more people find out about this, the less support they will give to the torture methods.

Anonymous said...

This is Thailand.. they take pride to say that "All Thais Love Elephant" but are unaware of these horrific acts. Typical Thai Culture. They say things that they dont even understand the meaning of. They love the Idea of loving the animal rather than Loving the Animal. Blunt Mentality. These people should be put behind Bars........

karaoke-queen said...

Hi Brunty, I have heard about this for a number of years and came across this blog while searching for Thai's who are against this practice or Thai groups who are against it but couldn't find anything. I wonder if you could email me some info if you know of anyone-it would be great if there were links but anything you have would be very much appreciated.

Jennyz said...

I'm also Thai and Yes elephants were revered in Thailand but only some of people are mean and never realize. Some are still believe in stupid believer thats not true. Most of them are educated people and aggressive. And the other problem is Thai government and law not strong enough.