5 min read

Baby Elephant Is Kidnapped So Tourists Can Take Pictures With Her

<p>Vicki Kiely</p>

A young elephant who was being paraded along a beach in Phuket, Thailand, for tourists wasn't supposed to be there at all.

A microchip revealed that Nang Chok, who is estimated to be 5 or 6 years old, was smuggled from the Surin province, over 700 miles away.

The young elephant was forced to give rides in the heat. | Vicki Kiely

The man who led Nang Chok along the beach (by her ear) in searing heat is now in custody for smuggling her from where she was born.

"She's been here a couple months for sure," Vicki Kiely, an animal advocate living in Thailand, told The Dodo. "She was there working all day and it has been 100 degrees or more some days."

The littered yard where the young elephant was kept alone | Vicki Kiely

"She is very gentle and well-behaved," Kiely said. "But we know how they become so 'well-behaved.'"

Vicki Kiely

Kiely is referring to the "training crush," the practice of crushing elephants' spirits so that they can become tame for tourist attractions, like elephant treks. And Thailand is a hot spot for this kind of treatment. A 2010 report from World Animal Protection surveyed 1,688 captive elephants at 118 establishments across the country found that most of these elephants were in terrible shape.

Vicki Kiely

"Cruelly taken from the wild or bred in captivity, these elephants are separated from their mothers and family groups at just a few months old," the report said. "Elephants destined for the tourist industry experience great physical and mental trauma. Isolation, starving, hitting and beating are just some of the methods used to initially break their spirits and get them to behave and perform."

For elephants, being apart from other elephants is cruel enough, since these animals are very social by nature. Girl elephants, like Nang Chok, stay with their families for their whole lives in the wild.

Vicki Kiely

Nang Chok is temporarily under the care of the Phuket Provincial Livestock Office. "We will hold Nang Chok for 30 days until a suitable location has been chosen, where we will send her," Surajit Witchuwan, of the Livestock Office, told the Phuket News.

But Kiely worries that Nang Chok will wind up in an elephant trekking camp, where she'd be forced to give rides to tourists, rather than a sanctuary. While Nang Chock's fate remains uncertain, advocates are trying to get her moved to a sanctuary rather than a trekking attraction.

Vicki Kiely

"We get them out of one bad situation and too often they end up in another one - sometimes a worse one," Kiely said.

We have our fingers crossed for her.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

Click here to add your name to a universal declaration of animal welfare.