A large news agency recently released a surprising video that seems to endorse a possibly abusive elephant attraction that opened late last year at Thailand’s Khao Kheow Open Zoo. One of the park’s most popular draws, the elephant swimming pool attracts scores of families and children who watch the underwater show from the comfort of an indoor theater.
In the 49-second AFP clip, the elephant is forced to swim to the bottom of the pool six times as he is ridden and prodded by a mahout, who also pulls on his ears. On the other side of the barrier, children hit the glass and try to get the animal’s attention while hordes of parents film the sad event.
The elephant, meanwhile, seems for all the world like it’s simply trying to get back to the surface to breathe.
Apparently, 10 elephants live at the Chonburi zoo and the video says that they perform two swimming shows per day. The rest of their days are spent giving rides in the zoo’s “safari” exhibit.
While elephants can and do swim, even long distances, they swim with their trunks above water, using the appendage as a natural snorkel to help them breathe, according to Wild Animal Park.
At the Chonburi zoo, they are forced to dive below the water, submerging trunk and all. In a world where the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus put an end to its elephant show after more than 100 years of the practice and films like Blackfish have exposed the realities of what goes into forcing orcas to swim for our amusement, it’s hard to imagine the show witnessed in the video doesn’t present animal welfare issues that are hard to dismiss.
We’ve contacted an expert on elephant behavior and will update this story with their thoughts in coming days.