This is the appalling moment a graceful Asian elephant was repeatedly beaten by a teenage keeper in Thailand – before he was forced to kneel at the animal’s feet by his furious manager.
Jumbo Chan Chao, 18, was getting ready to give tourist rides at the Ayutthaya Elephant Palace, central Thailand on Monday when trainer Peerapat began lashing the creature’s head with a spiked metal bar.
The keeper, also 18, pierced Chan’s thick leathery skin with the bullhook and caused the elephant so much pain that his legs collapsed. Chan Chao is now being treated by local vets with deep cuts to his head.
Video also shows the moment Peerapat was grabbed by the scruff of the neck by the camp’s manager and forced to kneel at the elephant’s feet and say sorry.
Peerapat (pictured riding Chan Chao) raises the bullhook and hits the animal a dozen times
Footage of the distressing incident was taken by a tourist who said the treatment left them ‘in tears’.
They did not want to be named but said they ‘just want the elephants to be treated kindly’.
Staff at the elephant park have since sacked the trainer (or mahout) and animal rights groups have filed a complaint at the local police station.
Police Lieutenant Samart Raksasak confirmed today that officers had seen the video and started an investigation.
He said: ‘The person in the video will be interviewed as well as to witness and officers will check the elephant for injuries.’
Animal rights group Watchdog Thailand, who made a police complaint, said the case showed ‘serious violence’ against elephants.
The beautiful elephant lost its footing during the onslaught and was brought to his knees
A spokesman said: ‘The owner of the camp has removed the young man seen in the video, but we believe that fundamental improvements need to be made.
‘Serious violence against the elephant can be seen in the clip. We hope to see improvements in animal welfare management at the elephant camp and we will follow up the outcome of the investigation.’
The controversial attraction in the former capital of Thailand uses dozens of elephants dressed in red and gold robes to give tourists rides through the town.
Elephants were seen last month with blood dripping from open wounds on their head from apparent blows from the hook.
Following the incident, the mahout claimed Chan Chao was ‘tense’ as he encountered another adult elephant moments earlier.
Peerapat said he used the bullhook to control Chan Chao and prevent him from becoming aggressive.
Act of contrition: Peerapat, who grew up with Chan Chao, kneeled and fed the animal bananas
He was later grabbed by the scruff of the neck by the camp’s manager and forced to kneel at the elephant’s feet and say sorry.
Peerapat told local media: ‘I’m very sorry about the incident and I admit everything. My father worked here and I have grown up with Chan Chao since we were both babies.
‘Using the hook is not done often, but only when the elephant is stubborn. If they are not controlled, in the future they will become fierce.’
Veterinarian Thongthae Meephan, the manager of the attraction, claimed that the wounds on the elephant’s head would be ‘healed in under a week’.
Peerapat lost his job at the elephant park. Chan Chao has recovered from his wounds, vets said
She said: ‘It was my mistake for putting a young inexperienced mahout in charge of Chan Chao.
‘They grew up together so they have a connection but he shouldn’t use the hook so aggressively.
‘The hook is to control elephants if they show aggression, but the rider should not let their own emotions take over. They need to stop once the elephant has obeyed.’
Thailand has an estimated 2,000 Asian elephants living in the wild and a similar number in captivity where they work in zoos, camps, sanctuaries, or hired out for religious festivals and weddings.
Defenders of the use of elephants in the tourist industry claim that it is part of the country’s historic culture and that the beasts are well cared for.
Ayutthaya Elephant Palace in central Thailand is a hugely popular tourist haunt (file image)
Bullhooks are used at the elephant park (pictured in 2017) – and remain legal at zoos in the UK
However, animal rights group PETA has long campaigned for a ban and boycott of anywhere ‘exploiting’ elephants or other animals in the tourist industry.
Vice President Jason Baker said: ‘Elephants used in the tourism industry are often taken from their homes and frantic families when only babies.
‘These traumatized animals are regularly beaten into submission with metal-tipped bullhooks so that they can be forced to give rides or perform ridiculous tricks for tourists.’
The use of bullhooks at zoos has been outlawed in dozens of American states, but the practice remains legal in the UK.
The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) said: ‘No UK zoo or safari park use the hooks shown in the video.
‘We would never permit physical or psychological harm to be inflicted on an elephant. BIAZA would sanction severely any member found to be causing physical or psychological harm to an elephant in its care.’