Is Elephants Painting Pictures Actually Cool or Cruel?

Elephants painting in Thailand draw a lot of tourists, and it may seem cool, but the methods they use to train them are brutally cruel. (Image: Screenshot/YouTube)
Elephants painting in Thailand draw a lot of tourists, and it may seem cool, but the methods they use to train them are brutally cruel. (Image: Screenshot/YouTube)

I came across the video of Suda the Elephant painting a picture of an elephant and I thought this is so amazing, elephants are so intelligent. So then I watched this other video, The Truth about Elephant Paintings, as I thought it would shed some light on how they were able to do it.

The video noted that it is common for elephants to use sticks to scratch the ground, so someone came up with the idea to replace the stick with a brush and the ground with a canvas. They trained the elephant to draw like that and they also get a little help. Their trainer is always by their side. He doesn’t touch his trunk, but he gently pulls his ear to determine how the line should be drawn.

I thought that there is no way that’s all they do. So I did more research and was shocked by how they actually train elephants to draw. Watching another video of how they break the baby elephants brought me to tears. The brutality and cruel methods they use all for the sake of tourism was just sickening to me.

Watch the trailer of An Elephant Never Forgets—warning, some content is graphic:

The baby elephants are taken away at a very young age when they should still be with their mothers. The elephant’s spirit is then “broken” using the phajaan process, which, according to the One Green Planet website, is designed to break the elephant’s spirit and force them to accept human control. The process is horrific and performed on baby elephants. They are shackled, starved, and beaten. They learn to fear the hooks and nails that will be used to control them in the years to come. Many elephants have not survived this process.

When they are not working, elephants are restrained at all times, usually on very short chains restricting any movement in any direction. They are often chained by both their front and back legs, and both feet are also shackled together, further restricting any movement. If an elephant is considered “naughty,” it is frequently chained by the neck too.

After this painful process, if the elephant survives, it then has to hold a paintbrush that is inserted into its trunk with a bar going horizontally so it doesn’t fall in. The elephant’s trunk is sensitive and full of nerve endings, making it an uncomfortable experience for the elephant.

Thanks to Lek Chailert and her team, things are starting to change. (Screenshot/YouTube.)

Thanks to Lek Chailert and her team, things are starting to change. (Image: Screenshot/YouTube)

While the elephant is painting in front of the tourists, the trainer, called a mahout, stands by the elephant’s side holding its ear, which has a nail in it so the mahout can inflict pain to control how the elephant paints. When the elephant is being trained to paint, if the elephant makes a wrong move, the mahout will beat it with a bullhook. Once it “learns” to paint, the elephant must paint at least one to three times a day.

So if you are traveling to Thailand, don’t buy or visit these horrible places that inflict these torturous acts on these beautiful creatures. If you want to experience elephants treated humanly in Thailand than the Elephant Nature Park is the only one you should visit. Lek Chailert and her team have land and jungle reserved for the free-roaming elephants they’ve rescued and rehabilitated.

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