A Thai elephant village has come under fierce criticism after a video of a handler threatening a calf went viral. The clip, filmed at the Damnoen Saduak Elephant Village by an Australian tourist, shows a playful baby elephant plucking fruit from the hands of a visitor before a young staff member approaches the animal and scares it with a menacing fist before grabbing its ear.
The tourist, Charley Costin, posted the footage on Facebook and expressed her outrage at the treatment of the calf. "The elephant was so loving he wanted our attention the whole time, that's when 'his master' became very angry," said Costin.
"As you can see the young boy storms in through my filming, threatening the elephant with a punch then grabs his ear and scrunched it up, causing that heartbreaking cry... At this stage I was in shock, I stopped filming and continued to question these actions. The boy then proceeds to pull on his ear and kick his foot then chain him up. My partner had to pull me away I was on the verge of tears watching this."
The video went viral, racking up hundreds of thousands of views and prompting a strong backlash against the elephant village. The worker in question was fired.
Writing on Facebook, Costin said that she had been contacted by animal rights groups and said the baby elephant will "hopefully be making his way to a sanctuary". Since the incident, Costin said that she had received messages from people the world over "to say how much awareness it has brought and the love they have for the elephants and all zoo/caged animals".
In the past, Thailand has come under heavy criticism for its treatment of elephants. Mahouts use tactics such as inflicting physical pain on the majestic creatures with weapons to beat them into submission. "Baby elephants are taken from their mothers, tied down, and beaten so severely that they bleed and scream, all in order to force them to perform ridiculous tricks for tourists," animal rights group PETA says on its website.