7 min read

No One Knew What To Do With This Angry Mom Elephant — So They Chained Her Up

It's real-life "Dumbo."

Animal rescuers in Thailand were not planning on rescuing a young, unpredictable and potentially dangerous captive elephant — but they just couldn't stand to let her waste away where she was.

A 23-year-old elephant named Thong Phoon has spent most of her life being forced to give rides to tourists at trekking camps in Thailand, in Thailand, which requires a particularly brutal training called a "crush" that starts at a very young age.

Trekking elephant in Thailand
WFFT

Thong Phoon has given birth to two calves, both of whom were taken away from her when they were very young. Now she's underweight, exhausted and angry — so she's had her front legs chained together to keep her under control. It's believed that she's also pregnant again. 

And a few people are doing everything they can to save her. But saving her is an extremely complex feat that exposes so many nuances about the tourism industry in Thailand.

Trekking elephant in Thailand
WFFT

"People often forget that even though captive elephants here in Thailand are legally classified as domestic animals, they are still wild at heart, and can be seriously dangerous animals," Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT), the rescue organization trying to raise enough money to buy her freedom, wrote.

Elephants are also naturally very social who love to help each other raise their calves — so being chained up and alone is agonizing for them. 

Chained elephant in Thailand
WFFT

"Thong Phoon has spent most of her life in chains, and more recently was kept with her two front legs hobbled in chains, in direct sunlight, with no access to regular drinking water," WFFT wrote.

Being kept in such conditions has caused Thong Phoon to lash out in the past — which has just led to further constraint on her. "While at the camp in Pattaya she had attacked a mahout [trainer] and some tourists, and also attacked an elephant calf," WFFT wrote. "This led to the owners being unable to use her for tourist rides so they shackled her and searched for a suitable ‘buyer.'"

Captive elephant poking trunk out of transport crate
WFFT

This week, Thong Phoon arrived at WFFT temporarily while her fate is determined. At the very least she's getting a taste of what being treated well feels like — and people are hopeful that she'll be able to stay there for good, with rescuers who understand her anger and frustration.

"Does her aggressive behavior stem from having her children ripped away from her? Or is she behaving like this because she realizes she is pregnant? Does she fear that her new calf will also be ripped away from her?" WFFT speculated.

Captive elephant being transported in Thailand
WFFT

Rescuers are also trying to negotiate with the camp to allow her to go for a cheaper price — and they're only willing to pay anything because the situation is so dire. Normally, WFFT rescues elephants who are over 50 years old and ready to retire from trekking. But the people at the sanctuary just can't stand to see Thong Phoon stay at the trekking camp.

"What are we to do in such a position? Do we send her back to a life of abuse?" WFFT wrote. "She would end up being chained 24 hours a day, she would be receiving regular beating to try and break her spirit to make her a working elephant again, attempting to remove ‘real’ elephant behaviors from her."

Captive elephant being temporarily transferred to Thai sanctuary
WFFT

For now, Thong Phoon is safe at the sanctuary, where they're constructing a larger enclosure to provide her with more room as she settles into a life without chains and abuse — providing the negotiations do end up freeing her. She's currently enjoying as much fresh fruit as she wants. She is chained by one leg while she adjusts, for her own safety and the safety of other animals — that's because she's hardly ever known life without a shackle. Hopefully, she will soon.

Problematic captive elephant eating fruit at sanctuary
WFFT

Sadly, Thong Phoon isn't the only elephant who has had a life of hardship because of the trekking industry. "There are currently around 3,500 captive elephants in Thailand," WFFT wrote. "We cannot save them all ... One thing is for sure if we do manage to raise the funds to secure Thong Phoon’s freedom forever, she will never have to give rides to tourists again and never have to give up one of her calves again."

You can help Thong Phoon by making a donation to the campaign to save her. You can also help elephants who undergo similar hardships by telling your friends and families that, if they love elephants, they shouldn't ride them.