How young elephants are trained is cruel

To the editor:

I was disheartened to read that Saranac Lake will host an event which features “live elephants” as entertainment. While the circus may be treating them humanely now as adults, it is the taking of the elephants as babies that is the most horrifying.

The following is from only one of several websites that refer to the practice of phajaan, or breaking the elephant’s spirit:

“Baby elephants are taken from their mothers at a very young age, usually 3 to 6 years old but often younger. After a young elephant is in the captivity of its handlers, the aim of the phajaan program is to break its spirit. Babies will be kept in small crates similar to those found in the intensive pig farming industry. Their feet will be tied with ropes, their limbs will be stretched, they will be repeatedly beaten with sharp metal and other tools, they will be constantly yelled and screamed at, and they will be starved of food. Bull hooks (a tool used in most forms of elephant control) will be used to stab the head, slash the skin and tug the ears.

“Ropes are used to tie and stretch the elephant’s limbs; these will eventually be replaced with tight, constricting chains. The phajaan may last for weeks, and they have no rest from physical torture and mental domination. Gradually, their spirits break and their handlers achieve control.

“Traditionally in eastern Asia, a mahout will be sole charge of a single elephant. As a mahout ages, his elephant is passed down through his family line. An elephant’s mahout will not be involved in the physical abuse during phajaan. In the final stage of the phajaan, the elephant’s mahout will bring the animal its first meal with water and will be the one to “release” the elephant and lead it away from the crate.

“After weeks of torture, of mental and emotional abuse, of loneliness, confusion and separation, the elephant sees this human figure as its savior — the one it trusts. This is just another stage of mental and emotional manipulation, of course, but it is how a particular mahout gains such immense control over its animal.”

Working at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand, I have seen the results of the phajaan firsthand. Tourists who wish to ride an elephant or see one perform only perpetuate these barbaric practices. Please enjoy these incredibly sweet, intelligent, majestic beats from the wild. A photo safari perhaps, or volunteer to help the ones already abused. Don’t be the cause of new abuse.


LeeAnne Baker

Saranac Lake