Elephant Misery

Stephen Wiggins Article, Petition 3 Comments

Have you ever been to a zoo, or animal ‘safari’ park where elephant rides are offered and you have been tempted to try it? Or perhaps attended a ‘festival’ in India or Sri Lanka where elaborately decorated elephants are ‘proudly’ paraded by their ‘masters?’

Elephant_Tourist rides

Figure 1 – Tourists riding elephants in Nepal


Elephants_Kerala Temple Festivals

Figure 2 – Decorated elephants at India’s Kerala Festival – Image courtesy of ALAMY

Images spring to mind of ‘colonial pioneers’ riding through uncharted territory on elephant backs, and/or highly decorated elephants ‘worshipped’ for their God like wisdom and prestige conveying the ‘powerful.’ The elephant has become part of human ‘culture’ over many years.


Figure 3 – Lord and Lady Curzon, Viceroy and Vicereine of India, enter Delhi with sepoy escort, circa 1902 – Image courtesy of www.pinterest.com

But surely it’s time for mankind to evolve and dispatch the cultural ‘right’ to imprison and abuse elephants to a relic of long, bygone era?

How can a human-being riding on an elephant’s back bring that much harm to such a massive, powerful creature? Elephants can be ‘used’ to move and carry logs and ‘harvests’ in their trunks to ‘assist’ man, so how can an elephant ride be of any harmful consequence?


Figure 4 – ‘Working’ elephants 

What’s the harm in ‘dressing up’ an elephant for a parade, surely these ‘revered’ creatures receive excellent care and welfare? How can those ‘performing’ elephants at the circus not be enjoying themselves, they look like they are smiling don’t they!?


Figure 5 – “End the Use of Wild Animals in Circuses” – Compassion Works International

Look a little deeper and wonder ‘how’ these elephants became trained into their subservient life of burden and ‘entertainment’ – plus the conditions they endure every day of their captive lives.

So, how does an elephant‘s life start when it has been (unwillingly) ‘chosen’ for a life of servitude to mankind, be that elephant back rides, circus entertainer, object of festival ‘adoration,’ or a substitute for machinery in logging tasks? Well, the answer is brutally.

To ‘subdue’ an elephant to submit to man’s will, the young elephant’s spirit must be broken beyond repair – sadistic beatings, intimidation, pain are inflicted beyond ‘cruel’ to convince the elephant that its mind and will are no longer its own domain, there is a human handler (‘mahout’), trainer, ‘master’ now in command of the elephant’s existence.

Elephant being broken

Figure 6 – Baby elephant being beaten and ‘broken’

Call for Elephants to be “Unchained

Carol Buckley founded Elephant Aid International (EAI) in November 2009 “to raise global consciousness about the lives of elephants both in captivity and in the wild.”

EAI’s Goals are to:

  • Improve the conditions of captivity in which elephants live and eliminate abusive training and management styles;
  • Demonstrate alternatives to the use of chaining as a form of management;
  • Train mahouts in positive management techniques so they can better care for and manage their elephants;
  • Improve the social status of mahouts through education and job advancement;
  • Remove begging elephants from the streets of Asia by finding alternative livelihoods for mahouts and their families;
  • Facilitate the establishment of lifetime care centres (sanctuaries) across Asia.


Figure 7 – Chained and injured elephant’s feet

EAI’s first projects are focused on elephants living in captivity, but over time it will also address the issues of elephants who live in the wild.

A documentary “Unchained” (written and directed by Alex C Rivera) has been made by “Wake Up Films Production” and with the special collaboration of EAI and Carol Buckley. “Unchained” highlights the abuse of elephants in captive environments. The “Unchained” documentary has been filmed and produced, but much needed funding is now being raised to give “Unchained” world-wide distribution and the maximum chance to raise public awareness of the captive elephants’ plight:

Video 1 – “Unchained” Official Trailer

Unchained” Synopsis

As we should all ‘know,’ working in co-operation will always yield a better longer term result for all parties concerned, engendering mutual respect and loyalty.

On the other hand, dominance, intimidation, threats and violence yields ‘results’ of a different kind – breeding contempt, duress, leading ultimately to the mental and physical destruction of the abused party. The human abuser can also become conflicted with shame and a need for atonement, but with some sadly lacking any such compassion of course.

Now imagine a young elephant, taken into a life of captivity, chained so its movements are restricted to the point where the elephant’s limbs can become permanently malformed, scarred, injured and infected. This same elephant’s will is drained from repetitive beatings with bars, sticks and metal ‘bull hooks’ to subjugate the elephant into obedience. Sometimes an abused elephant’s eye is hit and maimed, leading to blindness for life.

All this brutal cruelty and depravity to ‘train’ an elephant for a potential 60 year life expectancy subject to man’s behest – to provide elephant riding safaris perhaps, or even circus performances as human ‘entertainment,’ the subject elephant’s back, limbs, senses bombarded and abused daily. Then, the elephant chained and denied even the temporary respite of freedom of movement.

Unchained” follows the work of Carol Buckley (Elephant Aid International (EAI)) and her team, to enhance captive elephant welfare in Nepal, showing by gentle persuasion and example that there is a ‘better way’ to treat elephants in human captivity. Carol’s is a phased, pragmatic approach to change attitudes; encouraging co-operation, not confrontation between Nepalese elephant handlers (mahouts) and their ‘essential’ elephant assets, upon which the mahouts rely to sustain themselves in an environment bereft of options.

Carol promotes co-operation between man and elephant by ‘positive reinforcement,’ not dominance and cruelty – indeed a ‘better way.’

Unchained” tells the story, as Carol and her dedicated team make progress in Nepal to relieve the captive elephant’s immediate suffering one case at a time, pioneering a more humane connection between man and elephant, shifting the emphasis and acknowledgement towards elephant welfare and dignified treatment – a noble pursuit that these truly magnificent, intelligent ‘gentle giants’ undoubtedly deserve.

Unchained” needs to be seen. Its message, that through pragmatism and persistence, there is hope that ‘captive’ elephants will gain improved respect and welfare. Ultimately, there will be a transition away from abusive elephant training for ‘entertainment,’ burdening ‘tourists’ on their spines, to an ‘educated‘ tourist spectacle of herds of unchained ‘captive’ elephants to admire without intrusion; the elephants’ mahouts able to look on with pride, dignity and we hope at long last, a deeply felt mutual respect – a potential atonement indeed.      

 Everything that is not clearly visible to the public must be shown.”Unchained” is a documentary about the peaceful and educational activism of Carol Buckley (EAI) and about elephants in captivity and how they are trained, forced to endure long working hours and live in clearly improvable conditions” – “Unchained” – Indiegogo Fund Raising for distribution

Kerala – “Gods in Shackles

Many Hindus consider the Indian elephant to be the embodiment of Lord Ganesh – “the Hindu deity in a human form but with the head of an elephant – represents the power of the Supreme Being that removes obstacles and ensures success in human endeavours.”


Figure 8 – Lakshmi has stood stoically for over twenty years outside the Sri Manukula Vinayagar Temple, Pondicherry, India – Petition Release Lakshmi to sanctuary, far away from her life of persistent torture. 

Therefore, the Indian elephant holds a special place in Indian culture – particularly in Kerala, whose ancient temples are famously home to hundreds of captive elephants and seasonal festivals (Dec-May), when the elephants “are festooned in decorative headdresses and paraded through the streets of this South Indian state.”

However, considering the supposed worship of Indian elephants in Kerala, the reality of the elephants’ treatment is appalling.

A 20-year-old elephant named Chitillapilly Rajashekaran has been allegedly beaten to death (“Elephant Abuse In Kerala Has Finally Gone Criminal,” Huffington Post, February 2016). However, in an apparent attempt to cover the ‘shame,’ Chitillapilly Rajashekaran’s body was reportedly transported to another district in order to cover up the torture and wounds. This young elephant had just emerged from his musth — an annual cycle when the bulls are in heat.

When they enter into their musth their testosterone and energy level surge. They’re overwhelmed by the urge to mate. The cycle lasts for 3-4 months. The shackles are tightened severely to restrain them, as the elephants tend to become dominant during this time. In the wild the bulls wander for hours on end, finding mates and fighting with bulls. Whereas in captivity they become frustrated and aggressive as they’re unable to release their energies. So these elephants are deprived of food and water, in order to make them weak and submissive.”

But after they emerge from their musth these innocent animals must still undergo the cruellest of rituals that defy all holy books. It’s a secret tradition that involves seven or eight drunk men beating the living day lights out of this animal for 48-72 hours. It’s called Katti Adikkal, part of unchaining the bulls that emerge from their musth. The practice is based on a superstitious belief that the elephants may have forgotten their commands during their musth. It’s a horrifying ritual designed to break the elephant’s spirit and remind them that their masters are in control.”

“New documentary exposes brutal treatment of India’s temple elephants,” Gavin Haines, The Telegraph, 5 July 2016

The ‘breaking’ of the young elephant to gain submission to their ‘master’s’ will is equally hideous – the plight of the elephants has been highlighted in a forthcoming documentary ‘Gods in Shackles.’


Video 2 –God in Shacklesofficial trailer

The exposé is the brainchild of Sangita Iyer, “an award-winning Indian journalist living in Toronto, who returned to her native Kerala in 2013 and found these supposedly sacred animals suffering barbaric treatment.”

Iyer broke down in tears as she described seeing an elephant that had been deliberately maimed, a practice used to subjugate these wild animals, many of which have been illegally caught from the wild.”


Figure 9 – A ‘worshiped’ elephant deliberately maimed (blinded) to subjugate the animal into ‘obedience’ – Image courtesy of The Telegraph

Some temples in Kerala own their own elephants, but others rent them via a broker, says Iyer. It’s a lucrative business: a prize bull can fetch millions of rupees.”

In spite of all these people making so much money, the elephants are not given the kind of maintenance and welfare they deserve,” she said. “They (the people involved in the business) are trying to save as much money as possible so they can stuff their coffers.”

Iyer claims that the Guruvayur Temple, which is particularly popular with tourists, was one of the worst places she visited for elephant cruelty. The Animal Welfare Board of India agrees: a recent report by the organisation claimed the temple was violating numerous animal welfare laws.”

“New documentary exposes brutal treatment of India’s temple elephants,” Gavin Haines, The Telegraph, 5 July 2016

The Indian elephant can be found in the wild in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Cambodia and China (they are now regionally extinct from Pakistan). According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the wild Indian elephant population has declined by as much as 50 per cent in the last 75 years. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) believe there could be as few as 20,000 individuals living in the wild in India, where they are threatened by habit loss, poaching and illegal capture. Project Elephant believes there are a further 3,400 Indian elephants in captivity, though that figure could be much higher.

Sri Lanka

Below is a video of an elephant that is waiting to be paraded in the Esala Perahera, Sri Lanka’s most revered cultural event. Prior to the parade, the elephants are starved so the elephants are less likely  to defecate. The elephants are also chained beneath their ‘costumes’ to inhibit their movement, poked with the “henduwa“/Ankus/bull hooks to gain ‘obedience.’ This is the shocking reality of how ‘revered’ animals are treated in Sri Lanka, where truly wild elephants are now extinct, but remain in wildlife reserves and parks, with an estimated (2011) 5,879 in parks and 1,500 in ‘domestic employment’ – “logging, construction, tourism, ceremonies and temple” work.

Videos 3 and 4 courtesy of Elephants Must Roam Free

Elephant Riding, Trekking  and ‘Petting’

Elephants are not for riding, invasive human interaction, captivity and to provide ‘human entertainment.’ These magnificent creatures deserve dignity and respect (and a life in the wild with their family/herd). The victim in a recent story is not only Gareth Crowe (may he RIP) and his innocent/naïve desire to be near/ride an elephant, but the animals so enslaved (such as the elephant in this sad story) to the point of the animal’s apparent breakdown and despair at their own plight/abuse.


Figure 10 – Elephant rides in Thailand (and across Asia) are a popular tourist attraction (file photo) Photo: Rex Features

Baby elephants are used as ‘tourist attractions’ with the handler (mahout) using a sharp, metal nail disguised with their hand, to inflict pain to the baby elephant’s ear to gain ‘obedience’ as the mahout ‘guides’ the baby elephant for the ‘delight’ and ‘entertainment’ of the seemingly easily duped tourists.

Video 5 – Courtesy of  Mahouts Foundation – “This short film has been produced to be a tool for tourists, hotels and tour companies visiting Thailand and wanting to spend time with an Elephant.”


What all of these enslaved elephants deserve is a life back in the wild where possible, or at least a dignified life in sanctuary where they can be free to enjoy themselves away from human ‘masters,’ the beatings, the starvation, the humiliation, frustration, distress and ultimately, untimely death for human ‘needs/entertainment.’ It’s time to ‘unchain’ this magnificent giants from ‘cultural’ human abuse.

Video 6 – A much happier life awaits in sanctuary……

Related Articles

Dying in Captivity – Hanako, an Elephant’s Legacy,” Internationalwildlifebond1, 28 July 2016


Elephant Abuse in Kerala Has Finally Gone Criminal,” Sangita Iyer, The Huffington Post, 8 February 2016

New Documentary Exposes Brutal Treatment of India’s Temple Elephants,” Gavin Haines, The Telegraph, 5 July 2016


Stop to animal attractions”

We demand 1. an investigation why 50% of Kerala elephants are blind! 2. that they will be sent to a sanctuary

Stop Permits for India’s “Begging Street Elephants

“Stop stealing and torturing baby elephants for tourism”

“Give Your Elephants Real Freedom”

Stop Stealing Baby Elephants to Break Their Spirit in Phajaan Ritual, Which Mean Torture and Starvation!”

“Tell Thomas Cook Group to Stop Selling Elephant Rides”

“Warn People of Animal Cruelty at Tourist Attractions”

“Kerala, Urgent Medical Care and Release of 2 Baby Elephants Demanded”

Elephant_baby being broken


Comments 3

  1. Pingback: Dying in Captivity – Hanako, an Elephant’s Legacy – International Wildlife Bond

  2. Jeanette Allen

    It’s so sad that people, I don’t care where you live, have to abuse animals. I feel for those animals. Humans can be so cruel. If I could change the way people treat animals ” all animals ” believe me I would!!

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