The Phajaan – Breaking An Elephant’s Spirit

painting-elephantTo the thousands of tourists visiting Thailand, watching a young elephant painting pictures with its trunk on a Bangkok street is a beautiful scene. Tragically, few will realise the horrors these majestic animals suffer before surrendering to their handler’s brusque commands. Behind the seemingly peacefull scene lies a hidden painful and horrific secret!

It’s a sound not easily forgotten. Just before dawn in the remote highlands of northern Thailand, west of the village Mae Jaem (or many other villages), a four year old elephant bellows as village men stab nails into her ears and feet. She is tied up and immobilized in a small, wooden cage. Her cries are the only sounds to interrupt the otherwise quiet countryside.disgfd

The cage is called a “training crush” and the young Elephant is going through a process called ‘The Phajaan’. It’s the centrepiece of a centuries-old ritual in northern Thailand designed to domesticate young elephants. In addition to beatings, handlers use sleep-deprivation, hunger, and thirst to “break” the elephants’ spirit and make them submissive to their owners.

It’s a ritual that exists, in varying forms and degrees of cruelty, in virtually every country in Asia that has domesticated elephants. The people believe that to control the animal they have to do something to make the elephant feel fear and pain. Half the elephants do not survive. Many go crazy and have to be destroyed. Others become aggressive and 100 mahouts are killed by their animals every year.sdigjb

Thai law is ambivalent. Domestic elephants are considered livestock. Under Thai law, they’re no different from buffalo or cattle. Small fines, rarely enforced, are the only penalties for abusing livestock.

Sanctuaries protect elephants, caring for animals which have been tortured and abandoned, and at the  same time support the local economy through responsible tourism.

“They also use positive reinforcement techniques so that the elephants can be enjoyed without resorting to extreme treatment, proving it is possible to admire the great beauty of elephants and generate revenue without causing undue suffering to such a magnificent species.”

So tourists, BEFORE you decide to take part in a ‘Traditional Thai Elephant Activity’ please think what SUFFERING the Elephant has gone through to ‘domesticate’ it for YOUR ‘pleasure’!!


For information on genuine Elephant Sanctuaries in Thailand please visit

I am also taking part in The Enormous Elephant Run to raise funds for The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust. You can get further details and sponsor me at Just Giving – The Enormous Elephant Run, Raising Funds For DSWT

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