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Thai Elephants This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

Some people believe Thailand would be nothing without its elephants. The animal's deep religious meaning to the Hindu and Buddhist people has led to statues of the huge mammal all over the country. Elephants are used for tourism, logging, and festivities, and have always played an essential role in Thai culture. This might lead you to assume that the animals are treated with care and respect. You would be wrong.

In Thailand, the first time a domestic baby elephant is separated from its mother, the animal is placed in a wooden cage known as “the crush” for three days. It is called this because it crushes the animal's independence. Without food, water, or rest, the baby is beaten with sticks, stabbed with nails, yelled at by people, laughed at by children. Men shout orders that the animal cannot understand and punish it when it does not obey.

Although their hide looks tough, elephants are physically sensitive animals that can feel a fly land on them. The tools to train elephants often leave them severely injured. Once an elephant comes out of “the crush” after the three days of torture, it obeys its owners.

Some domestic elephants are used to haul logs up mountains for buildings and houses. Since elephants are used for earning money, the owners will do whatever is necessary to get them to work hard. Many elephants have been blinded by slingshots or arrows shot into their eyes when they did not haul logs fast enough. Elephants are considered livestock here and are treated however their owners please. They are beaten and overworked. Many are not only physically abused, but mentally traumatized.

Captive elephants in Thailand are also forced to breed in a very unnatural way. Hormones are injected into a male elephant, and then he is locked in a cage with a ­female. The male, due to the drug, rapes her. If she struggles, he uses his tusks to subdue her. This forced breeding results in many females with broken bones and other injuries. Some females are so upset by forced breeding that they kill their baby when it is born. Some believe this is because they do not accept a baby conceived through rape, and others say it is because they do not want their child to have the same life they do.

Thailand makes lots of money from elephant tourism. Elephant rides are a common sight. Tourists can sit on wooden platforms on an elephant's back as it roams through forests and small rivers. A mahoot, or elephant handler, steers the animal by poking it with a stick or kicking it behind its ears, which are the most sensitive part of its body. Another type of tourism involves elephants that roam Bangkok, where tourists take pictures with them or feed them. The elephants that live in the city barely get enough to eat and are breathing toxic fumes all day.

Though these forms of elephant tourism seem cruel to the animal, without them, more domestic elephants would end up stranded in the forest with no knowledge of how to fend for themselves.

Thailand needs tourist money to keep the elephants cared for and owners financially stable. However, the traditional method of training the animals by way of “the crush” and beatings needs to change. Animal rights laws need to be enforced. If an elephant is being treated inhumanely, the owner should be fined. Although “the crush” is an effective method to train an elephant, there are other, more humane ways.

Sangduen Chailert (Lek), whose name means “small” in Thai, has dedicated her life to caring for and protecting elephants. She is a proponent of training elephants by rewarding cooperation instead of punishing, beating, and intimidating them. This humane method of animal domestication is new in Thailand and will take time to spread, but it is a good start.

In addition, Lek founded an Elephant Nature Park in Chang Mai, where she keeps 35 animals. Some were rescued from forest abandonment, while others were bought from cruel owners. She provides them with medicine, shelter, food, water, and protection, but most importantly, love. Lek treats each elephant like family.

Although kindness and passion radiate from Lek, the Thai government is doing everything they can to shut her down. They say she makes them look bad, which is true, and have blamed bombings on her and given her restrictions and fines. None of this has stopped her, and she will never give up. Lek's love for and dedication to the elephants of Thailand make her an inspiration to us all and give us hope for a better Thailand.

To learn more about the Elephant Nature Park and how you can help Thai elephants, visit www.elephant-naturepark.org. f

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the October 2013 Teen Ink Environment Contest.




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