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‘Skeletal’ baby elephant forced to bang head to rave music as Thailand zoo visitors laugh

Exclusive: Investigators find ‘heartbreaking’ scenes of animals being made to perform tricks under threat of bullhooks 

Jane Dalton
Monday 08 April 2019 09:26 BST
Elephants 'dance' to rave music played instruments and use hula-hoops after training with painful bullhooks

An emaciated baby elephant is forced to bang her head to rave music, “play” musical instruments and perform tricks under the threat of painful punishment at a Thai zoo, investigators have found.

Behind-the-scenes footage also shows the young animal chained up and repeatedly sucking on her trunk – a sign of distress – when away from the tourist shows.

The infant elephant, dubbed “a real-life Dumbo”, is made to join “distressing” performances up to three times a day at Phuket Zoo.

Tourists watched and laughed as she and two adult elephants banged their heads up and down and side to side, and held a leg up while the zoo played loud rave music.

At one point, trainers were seen scraping the animals with bullhooks – which investigators suspect was a reminder to the elephants that they may be jabbed with the sharp tools.

Visitors were filmed putting money in “Dumbo’s” trunk for her to give to the mahout, who also holds a harmonica for her to blow into.

Inside an arena, elephants were forced to stand in a line, one hitting a cymbal with a drumstick, as another and the baby “played” the harmonica.

The investigators, from activist group Moving Animals, described the scenes as “heartbreaking, shocking and alarming” with the animals living in fear of painful punishment or “training”.

The baby elephant, who looks undernourished, sucks her trunk for comfort (

“Tourists’ money pays to keep this young elephant in captivity, and she will spend the rest of her life forced to perform day after day,” said Amy Jones of Moving Animals.

“Shocking photos also reveal her skeletal body, raising concerns of possible malnourishment and exhaustion.”

The adults are seen swaying in distress in other footage; one – which still looks young – is ridden and is forced to kick a ball into a net.

Another time, an elephant being ridden is jabbed by a mahout, who also scrapes the bullhook against her face.

The older elephants also swing hoops around their trunks.

The cruelty continues when one animal moves away from a podium she must stand on, and the mahout pulls her back by the ear.

Ms Jones said she later saw an adult elephant in a bare concrete enclosure pulling on her chain trying to reach out to the investigators.

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“We watched as tourists laughed and took selfies, while the baby elephant stood with her eyes closed, quietly sucking her trunk. The cruel life she will endure is heartbreaking.”

Moving Animals has started a petition calling for her release to a sanctuary.

The Independent has asked the zoo to comment.

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