An Australian tourist has captured a video of the moment an employee appeared to threaten a baby elephant in a Thai holiday resort, prompting an angry backlash from animal rights campaigners online.

Gold Coast resident Charley Costin said in a post on Facebook that she and her partner Dani, seen in the video holding some bananas, visited the Damnoen Saduak elephant village as a brief stop on a boat tour.

She was filming her boyfriend interacting with the “loving” elephant when a young male attendant can be seen walking over and raising his fist towards the animal, causing it to cower away.

The attendant then appears to grab the baby elephant’s ear, which Ms Costin said made it let out a “heartbreaking” cry.

“I was in absolute disgust,” she said. “I stopped filming and continued to question and tell this insignificant bully of a boy to stop.”

She said the couple “gave as much love to this beautiful guy as we could” before they left.

Ms Costin’s video on Facebook has since been seen by more than 440,000 people and, in a later update, she said she had been “contacted by elephant freedom fighters and animal rights [campaigners]” keen to take “action” against the sanctuary.

Some reports suggested the young attendant shown in the video had been fired, but in comments in Thai media the owner of the sanctuary appeared to defend his actions.

Thanapat Kayar said the teenager may have shown “a lack of manners” but added he only wanted to ensure the safety of the tourists and “did not actually land a punch on the elephant”.

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