Elephant that killed tourist performed at Thai safari camp tainted by cruelty allegations
The marauding elephant that trampled and gored a British tourist to death in Thailand after attacking its handler is forced to perform at an island safari camp that has been accused of cruelty to animals by customers.
Animal welfare campaigners have now launched a fresh call for a ban on all tourist elephant rides, saying the practice is cruel to the animals as well as dangerous for holidaymakers.
Gareth Crowe, 36, from Scotland, was killed in front of his 16-year-old step-daughter by an elephant that threw them to the ground after its handler dismounted to take a photograph of them on the holiday island of Koh Samui.
The handler, or mahout, reportedly tried to control the animal with a speared hook and was also gored, but survived.
A video emerged last night from another recent British visitor to the island showing a mahout jabbing an elephant with a similar hook at the main trekking park.
Mr Crowe was killed on Tuesday, the day before a new report released by British campaigners named elephant riding as top of a list of the world’s cruellest wildlife tourist attractions.
The London-based group World Animal Protection conducted the study into wildlife tourism with the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit.
“It’s clear that thousands of tourists are visiting wildlife attractions, unaware of the abuse wild animals face behind the scenes,” said Kate Nustedt, director of wildlife at World Animal Protection.
“As well as the cruelty to animals, there is also the very real danger to tourists, as we saw earlier this week with the very sad death of Mr Crowe.
“We need to stop the demand for elephant rides and shows, hugs and selfies with tigers and lions by exposing the hidden suffering behind wildlife attractions.
“If you can ride it, hug it or have a selfie with a wild animal, then you can be sure it is cruel. Vote with your feet and don’t go.”
Eilidh Hughes, Mr Crowe’s step-daughter is being treated for injuries in hospital after the accident on a trek organised by the Island Safari Camp.
The camp, one of the island’s largest tourism businesses, emphasises the safety of its customers on its website.
But several customers have posted comments on travel review sites criticising the treatment of its animals and saying they had witnessed wounds inflicted from apparent abuse by their handlers, including the use of the speared hooks.
Samattapong Uttama, assistant managing director of Island Safari, told The Telegraph that the company was investigating the claims of cruelty posted online.
“The mahouts have hooks to control the elephants but they are told not to use the sharp ends,” he said.
“We don’t use the animals to make money but to show tourists about the cultural history of our country and how people used to live here. We do not believe there is cruelty involved in these rides.”
Edwin Wiek, founder of the Wildlife Friends Foundation of Thailand, said that he believed the male elephant that killed Mr Crowe was reacting aggressively as it was in musth, the frenzied state during rutting season.
It was the sixth fatal incident in the last five months involving bull elephants in musth across Thailand, he told the DPA news agency said.
"Male elephants should not be a part of these treks at all as they are uncontrollable when they are in heat," Mr Wiek said.
Thailand has an estimated 4,000 domesticated elephants, many working in the tourism trade, beside some 2,500 wild elephants.
In August, an elephant killed his handler with three terrified Chinese tourists still on his back. The tourists survived.
The elephant riding industry is extremely lucrative in Koh Samui. Local officials and tour operators apparently sought to protect its commercial interests with varying explanations for the animal’s behaviour.
There were initial local media reports that Mr Crowe had teased the animal by appearing to offer it a banana after dismounting to take a photograph. But those were quickly denied by Eilidh in a comment on a local news website.
Then island officials said they suspected that “hot weather made the elephant angry” – a confusing claim as the elephants are native Asian animals and temperatures at the time were about the average 30C.
Mr Samattapong said that the elephant had been tranquillised and brought under control and was now being treated.