Animal rights group Peta released a video, shot from adjacent hotel and apartment windows, that appeared to show handlers hitting elephants with bullhooks and pulling their giant ears as they trained for the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament in Bangkok.
Bullhooks resemble a fireplace poker with a long, sharp metal hook on one end.
Peta, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said one elephant was struck 15 times until it bled. It called on sponsors like Johnnie Walker, PwC, Peroni, Ferrari and IBM to withdraw their support.
“Beating elephants who are used in a game they do not understand while claiming to fund conservation efforts for their species is a scam,” said Jason Baker, Peta’s Asia representative.
“Peta and its affiliates worldwide are calling for an immediate end to this spectacle of suffering and for relief for the elephant victims of this fiasco disguised as a fundraiser.”
The organisation said elephants used for polo tournaments, rides or other amusements endured violent training to break their spirit, during which they were regularly beaten. Between matches, they were often shackled so tightly that they could hardly take a step and numerous tournaments had been cancelled or lost sponsors, it added. The Guinness Book of World Records had removed all elephant polo records, Peta said.
The four-day event at the Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort is promoted as a “highlight of international high society’s annual social calendars”, creating “real and lasting change for elephants in need in the kingdom”.
Thailand often attracts unwanted attention for its appalling animal-rights record.
There are now just an estimated 5,000 elephants in Thailand, down from around 100,000 a century ago.
Organiser Anantara Hotels, Resorts and Spas said: “[We] strongly condemned the mistreatment of any elephant at any time.” It said the handlers in the video had been sacked immediately.
“Prior to each tournament, all mahouts, who originate from traditional mahout villages in northeastern Thailand, are required to confirm that they will comply with a strict code of conduct when they are selected to participate in the tournament.”
PwC told the media it would address the issue after the weekend while other sponsors were unavailable for comment.
King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament in Bangkok. Picture credit: Flickr