This is an old photograph from my collection, one I took way back in 1972 when the elephant was still known as “the tractor of Thailand”. Sadly, the lovely big animals no longer haul teak and this sort of thing is a rare occurrence now as they no longer live a happy life with their mahouts in the forests in the north of the country. Their habitat has been destroyed by logging, legal and illegal, and most of them have had to journey south with their mahouts, to the coastal areas where they are reduced to giving rides to tourists. In many cases they fall ill from diseases to which they have no resistance; the grasses along the sides of the road are sprayed with pesticides which harm them, and their young ones are often taken away from them and chained up outside a bar for the amusement of tourists.
If you see such a thing, tell the owner you don’t approve.
2 thoughts on “Weekly Photo Challenge: RARE”
Actually in the old days in Thailand, the elephant’s life mirrored that of its owner and the baby elephant would grow up with the young male Thai who would eventually be his mahout (a family business). The first 3 years it spent by its mother’s side watching her work, then six years at ‘elephant school’ learning the trade, then working as an apprentice for about 4 hours a day, then a fully-fledged teak hauler when it worked no more than 6 hours a day, and never in the midday heat. At about 60/65 the elephant was retired along with its owner (the life span is something similar) and when it died, the tusks were collected by the government (all ivory is government property) but the mahout got to keep the bones from which he made jewellry and other small bits and pieces which he sold. Call it his pension.
I worked closely with the Elephant Protection League in Phuket who raised money to employ a vet to look after the roaming pachyderms and I was responsible for them getting an Award from the British Guild of Travel Journalists. I published a few articles on their plight and the response was very satisfying.
I’ve heard much about the unethical training and abuse of elephants, and had the thought that, if anyone were to treat a horse this way, they’d never get away with it nowadays. And, I wonder if an elephant could be trained as a draught or pack animal without using the cruel methods most people allege. I have yet to find an authoritative answer.