Protect Elephants from Exploitation and Abuse


Target: Prayuth Chan-ocha, Acting Prime Minister of Thailand

Goal: Strengthen animal trafficking laws to prevent the exploitation and abuse of wild elephants serving the Thai tourist trade

Wild elephants are being captured and tortured, smuggled from Myanmar into Thailand to serve as tourist attractions. According to the wildlife monitoring network Traffic, as many as 81 elephants were captured between 2011 and 2013 and forced to work in Thailand’s tourism industry.

Young elephants garner the most attention from tourists and are therefore heavily targeted by smugglers, who use domesticated elephants to herd wild ones into traps where the older herd members are often shot and the young ones beaten into submission. Once they are tamed through repeated abuse the elephants are smuggled across the Thai border for sale at trekking camps and other tourist hot spots.

A 2012 crackdown on trafficking has helped curb the influx of tortured elephants into Thailand. The animals are often seized at the border. Unfortunately, loopholes in trafficking laws allow many young elephants to slip through undetected. The country’s domesticated elephants must be registered, but not until they are 8 years old leaving considerable time for them to be integrated into domesticated herds without acknowledging their origins.

Traffic worries that rather than slowing down the elephant smuggling trade from Myanmar to Thailand is ramping up in anticipation of even more porous Thai borders due to recent political upheaval. “We have information that dealers on the Myanmar side of the border are holding elephants, waiting for enforcement vigilance to be relaxed,” Dr. Chris Shepherd of Traffic says.

Another serious concern for animal rights activists is the extent to which the trafficking laws are enforced. Though a number of elephants have been seized since the crackdown, there have been no prosecutions. Without the deterrent of possible punishment smugglers act with impunity at a heavy cost to the animals’ welfare.

Tell the Thai government to tighten trafficking laws, heavily prosecute smugglers and disseminate information about the plight of smuggled elephants to better inform tourists and thus reduce demand.


Dear Acting Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha,

Despite reinvigorated enforcement of trafficking laws in Thailand since 2012, many abused elephants still slip through the cracks of a porous Thai border and into tourist trekking camps. These previously wild elephants are tamed in Myanmar through torture. They are captured, held in poor conditions and beaten into submission by smugglers.

A loophole in Thai import regulations allows many illegal traffickers to sidestep the law. By not enforcing the registration of domesticated elephants under 8 years of age, young wild elephants can be easily integrated without their origins coming into question. What’s more there has been not a single prosecution since 2012. Smugglers act with impunity, regularly escaping any form of punishment.

I urge the Thai government to support the heavy prosecution of elephant traffickers. I also implore you to inform tourists of the possible abuse they support when visiting trekking camps without researching the origins of the camps’ elephants. These two steps could dramatically reduce the exploitation and abuse of wild elephants in your country.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: SuperJew via Wikimedia Commons

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