It's called crushing — a practice inflicted on wild elephants to make them carry tourists on their back.

Warning: Disturbing content below

Shutterstock/Jorg Hackemann

It's a way of deliberately breaking the spirits of animals so humans can use them. Crushing involves tying up and literally beating an elephant into submission.

"Tourists may think activities like riding an elephant do no harm," Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach, senior wildlife and veterinary adviser at World Animal Protection, told The Dodo in a May 2015 feature on this kind of cruel tourism. "But the brutal truth is that breaking these animals' spirits to the point that they allow humans to interact with them involves cruelty at every turn."

While it's unclear exactly how many elephants endure this torment each year, it's believed that one of the main threats to elephant populations in Asian habitats is the illegal capture and "training" of young elephants.

The "training crush" often involves taking young elephants away from their mothers and then caging, starving and beating them. Crushing also involves making the constricted elephant stay awake for days.

The practice feeds the tourist industry's demand for tame elephants, as well as other forms of captivity, like circuses and entertainment. (And, by the way, "training" captive elephants in the U.S., which can involve hitting elephants with painful bull hooks and tying them up with ropes, isn't any less cruel or debasing.)

While capturing wild elephants is supposed to be illegal, this law is often hard to enforce, and once an elephant has been forced into submission, the laws shift — the elephant is seen in the eyes of the law as a captive animal, no longer wild, and any protections no longer apply.

And once broken, their spirits can never fully be repaired.

Click here to learn more about why, if you love elephants, you shouldn't ride them.

Click here to learn how you can help Elephant Nature Park, a sanctuary for abused elephants in Thailand.