They call it phajaan or elephant crushing. It must be done, the humans say. The goal is to break the spirit of the elephant. After all there can only be one boss and it certainly isn’t the elephant. Their wishes or natural inclinations are insignificant.
So they take our elephants and put them in a cage or kraal constructed out of logs or other materials. A single elephant in a single kraal. Younger elephants, of course, can be dominated and beaten into submission more easily.
These baby elephants, and any elephant going through phajaan, are tied up, (depriving them of food, sleep and water is not unheard of) kicked, prodded, beaten with sticks or the ankus (aka ankush, elephant hook, bullhook, elephant goad) until they come to realize that they are no longer elephants.
They can no longer be elephants because humans have forfeited that life for them. They have now been assigned a job.
In this case the job, they say, is giving a human a massage. So the young elephants, reports Ameena Schelling for The Dodo, stand diligently next to their mahout (always with a ready bullhook in their hand) and perform their newly learned tricks or tasks.
The human, explains Caroline McGuire for The Daily Mail, is on their stomach on the ground (or they have been seen on the beach stretched out on a lounge chair) lying on a mat or towel. The elephant is expected to “pummel” the human’s back with their trunks or lightly “pat them down with their feet”.
A strong, painful “yank on the ear” (elephants have extremely sensitive areas around their ears) reminds the elephant that as a masseuse she must continue to nudge her trunk in the “correct direction” or continually face the same set of circumstances.The bullhook is always in the elephant’s sight and they know, oh, they know, what that is all about.
(No mention of the cost of this service by elephants. The only costs any compassionate human could envision here are the costs of lives of these elephants, the price of their suffering. )
It is presented as a novelty in Thailand to tourists or a feat to accomplish in a lifetime and while it may initially attract one’s attention that is where the attraction has got to end.
Humans must be educated on the cruelty behind the novelty. The suffering our elephants have to endure for this. Elephants were not born to be anything but elephants. So, no, for the sake of our elephants, this is not “one for the bucket list.”
YouTube Video Creative Commons: Elephant Massage Thailand on beach
Watch on YouTube “Breaking the spirit of the elephant” Warning This is a Disturbing Video of The Crush / Phajaan, “the training of wild elephants that are caught for the tourist trade”, including the elephant massage charade.