“The crush” — how elephants are tortured to entertain tourists

For tourists visiting Thailand, as well as other countries in Southeast Asia, elephants are a source of fun, entertainment, and happy memories. Elephants give them rides and perform all sorts of tricks, even painting pictures. But there’s a dirty secret behind it all: “phajaan,” or “the crush,” as in crushing an elephant’s spirits.

To be tamed (that is, “crushed,”) a baby elephant is taken from its mother and put in a small wooden cage, so small they can’t even lie down to sleep. The people crushing the elephant torture it for about a week: striking the elephant with sticks and other implements, inflicting burns, and withholding food. There’s a twisted method to this madness. Once its spirits are completely broken, the elephant forms a bond with its tormentors — in a way, it’s like “Stockholm syndrome,” where a kidnapped person begins to identify with their captors.

Fortunately, not everyone in Thailand thinks “the crush” is okay. When Sangduen Chailert was a little girl, she saw an elephant screaming while it was being tormented. Many years later, in 1996, Sangduen helped Green Tours open an elephant sanctuary. There, rescued elephants get to live in as natural a setting as possible while receiving the care they need. And these elephants need a lot of care: the vast majority arrive with severe psychological damage.

Sangduen has found a way to help them recover; it involves talking to them, singing, and showing them kindness and empathy. Henrik Evoldsen described how effective Sangduen’s method is: “When she begins to talk to the elephants, they don’t want to leave her. They want to be close to her all the time. When we visit the park, we can not go with Sangduen, all the elephants come to her at once.”

Check out the video posted below and let us know what you think in the comments at Facebook. Be sure to like and share: raise awareness and pay tribute to Sangduen and others like her!