7 min read

Elephants Chained Up At This Zoo Are Literally Going Crazy

They spend all day rocking back and forth, chained to the hard concrete floor of their enclosure.

And people pay to watch them.

These are the elephants at the Phuket Zoo in Thailand, which might be one of the worst places on earth for animals.

The zoo claims that its elephants, some of whom spent their early lives laboring for the logging industry, are "very happy" to put on shows like "balancing acts, football games, disco dancing and races."

But visitors to the zoo tell a different story. The latest footage was taken by Olivia Skippings, a zoo visitor who was horrified by what she saw. Emma Brown, who runs a Facebook page dedicated to exposing the Phuket Zoo, posted the video to get the word out. "She was so distressed," Brown told The Dodo, "she wanted to get this footage out to others to see the conditions these animals are kept in."

The elephants at Thailand's Phuket Zoo spend all day standing on hard concrete. | Tua Lisa

And Skippings wasn't the only one to think something was seriously wrong with these elephants.

"These elephants are exhibiting stereotypic behavior, swaying back and forth to cope with the cruel monotony of captivity and relieve some of the pressure of being trapped in place on unforgiving concrete flooring," Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, told The Dodo. "They are sadly chained by one leg, rendered immobile, which is a further tragedy as they can hear and see their companions – but heartbreakingly cannot reach them for comfort and companionship."

Vicki Kiely, an activist based in Thailand who, in February, worked to free an orangutan the Phuket Zoo was keeping in a dark concrete box, said what this footage shows sadly isn't unusual for the Phuket Zoo - it is just how the animals there are treated.

The elephants at Thailand's Phuket Zoo are literally in chains. | Tua Lisa

"The elephants are in shocking conditions," Kiely said. "The pads on the feet are totally destroyed - they have fungus on their feet because they're standing in their own urine and shit all day."

One photo from Kiely's visit there shows a baby elephant trying to nurse from her mother, but she can't because she's tethered so tightly. "She was incapable of nursing effectively," Kiely wrote.

A tethered baby elephant tries to nurse from her mother. | Vicki Kiely

Another photo shows an elephant who is forced to give rides to tourists at the zoo. His head is covered in wounds from being struck by a bullhook, a sharp prod used to train elephants and keep them in check. The use of bullhooks has been banned in several U.S. cities.

An elephant who gives rides to tourists is covered in wounds. | Vicki Kiely

According to Kiely, some Phuket Zoo animal handlers do seem to care for their animals, even if they have no idea how to treat them well. "It's bizarre to see this mixture of love and control. But it's very difficult. There's abuse but I see that there's love as well," Kiely said. "They just don't understand why this is wrong."

But the elephants at the Phuket Zoo are another story.

"The guys who handle the elephants, I would question their care. That part of the zoo is just so depressing," Kiely said. Many of the elephants are kept chained down - one chain "on the front leg and one on the back, so they literally can't move."

If they are ever let off their chains, it's just so they can perform shows for the crowds.

The zoo, which has been in operation since 1997, is private, but is registered under a government-granted license. In November 2014, Thailand passed its first law against animal abuse, allowing the government to prosecute those suspected of abusing animals. But according to a report from World Animal Protection (WAP), the country still lacks the mechanisms to enforce the law.

Brown has spent the past decade trying to draw attention to the abuse at the Phuket Zoo. "I have contacted Captive Animals in the U.K., I have contacted Thai authorities, I have contacted media outlets," Brown said. "I've spent hours and hours of trying to get something to happen. It never does."

But she keeps trying.

The Phuket Zoo did not immediately reply to The Dodo's request for comment.

Click here to sign a petition calling for the government to shut down the Phuket Zoo.