PETA video shows mahout hit elephant on the head “approximately 15 times”
BANGKOK, Thailand––The likelihood that the recently completed 16th annual King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament in Bangkok, Thailand will mark the end of the sport increased on March 9, 2018, the second day of the four-day event, concluded on March 11, when PETA/Asia posted video showing mahouts beating several of the 25 elephant participants on March 7, the day before the tournament started, and on March 8.
“One mahout can be seen hitting an elephant on the head approximately 15 times, and blood appears to be visible,” said a PETA/Asia media release.
PETA videotaped from nearby windows
Elaborated PETA spokesperson David Perle, “The footage, shot from nearby hotel and apartment windows,” by a team led by PETA/Asia president Jason Baker, “shows handlers in a holding area next to the polo grounds repeatedly beating and jabbing the captive elephants’ heads with bullhooks––weapons that resemble a fireplace poker with a long, sharp metal hook on one end––and pulling the animals with the hooks by their extremely sensitive ears.”
Some of the beatings appeared to be administered as the elephants were taken to drink from the Chao Phraya River, the largest in Thailand, advertised as the scenic backdrop to the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament.
At least 10 sponsors active in U.S.
PETA asked viewers of the video and others upset by the use of the bullhooks, also called “ankuses,” to express their feelings to the Minor Hotel Group, owner of the Anantara Hotels & Resorts chain that hosts the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament, and also to tournament sponsors including Benihana restaurants, Dairy Queen, Hooters Asia, IBM, the Johnnie Walker distillery, Oman Air, Peroni Brewery, the PriceWaterhouseCoopers financial services empire, and Ripley’s Believe It or Not!
“In 2011,” PETA reminded, “London-based Guinness World Records Ltd. removed all references to elephant polo from the Guinness World Records books because of the abuse that elephants endure for these events. And following discussions with PETA India, Carlsberg Group withdrew its sponsorship of the Polo Cup.”
Beatings dominated coverage
Major Thai media including the Bangkok Post, The Nation, and Bangkok Coconuts made no mention of the PETA video, but the videotaped beatings dominated international coverage. Few reports even mentioned that the 2017 championship Mekhong team won the 10-team 2018 tournament as well.
“Anantara Hotels and Resorts admitted that the physical abuse [alleged by PETA] indeed took place and that the caretakers identified in the footage have been fired for breaching the organizer’s code of conduct,” reported Christoph Sator of the Deutsche Presse-Agentur news service, based in Hamburg, Germany.
“The organizers and main sponsors of the event confirm that they are upset by this video and strongly condemn the mistreatment of any elephant at any time,” an Anantara Hotels & Resorts spokesperson told Sator.
Mahouts got the boot
“Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas confirmed that the handlers in the video had been immediately expelled,” updated Sky News southeast Asia correspondent Siobhan Robbins.
Anantara said it “is deeply committed to improving the lives of elephants and the behavior in the video is wholly contradictory to the purpose, the intentions and the rules that have been implemented for the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament over the past 16 years.
“Prior to each tournament,” the Anantara statement said, “all mahouts [elephant trainers/keepers], who originate from traditional mahout villages in northeastern Thailand, are required to confirm that they will comply with a strict code of conduct when they are selected to participate in the tournament.
“Extra security has been arranged,” Anantara added, “to oversee the well-being of the elephants for the remainder of the tournament and additional positive reinforcement training workshops are now being arranged in the traditional mahout village in northeastern Thailand.”
The mahouts might have been imagined to have already had compelling reason to follow the rules––if they believed they could.
For the mahouts, elephant polo is easy money, requiring each elephant to compete for just two 14-minute halfs per game, and only one game per day, between rest and feeding sessions.
Seeking tourist fares, photo fees, participating in temple processions, and begging, the other major elephant occupations in modern Thailand, are all hugely more demanding of the elephants, and the mahouts, and are far less certain of fetching enough income in any given day to feed an elephant, a mahout, and the mahout’s family.
All other hosts have dropped elephant polo
At a glance, Anantara Hotels & Resorts would appear to have substantially less reason to want to continue an event that will now almost assuredly become a year-round public relations liability, and has already been abandoned by all other promoters.
The Tiger Tops resort in Nepal, where elephant polo was invented in 1982, announced in December 2017 that it would stop hosting annual elephant polo tournaments, in keeping with changes in management philosophy.
The World Elephant Polo Association, apparently moribund, has posted nothing new to either Facebook or the WEPA web site since January 2015.
Elephant polo was also played in Sri Lanka from 2002 to 2007, and in Jaipur, India from 2005 to 2008.
That left the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament as the game’s last stand, advertised by Anantara Hotels & Resorts as “one of the biggest charitable events in Southeast Asia.”
Anantara has claimed the tournament has raised “over $1.7 million (USD)” for “projects that better the lives of Thailand’s wild and domesticated elephant population.”
But the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament is apparently no longer bringing in as much money as it once did, despite having been moved to Bangkok in 2014 to try to boost attendance and media coverage.
Previous tournaments had been held in Hua Hin, on the Thai southern peninsula, and Chiang Rai, in the far northeast.
How much money?
Announced revenue figures indicate that the 2018 King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament brought in about $128,000, less than a third of the 2016 peak of $430,000, if still above the 16-year average of $93,750.
But that is only if the Anantara figures are accepted at face value.
Associated Press on March 9, 2018 reported that the actual sum raised over the years is $950,000, while the Reuters news service a day later put the total at $1.3 million.
The money is funneled through the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, formed by Anantara Hotels & Resorts in 2006. The major Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation activity appears to have been helping to fund acquisition of “an 18,000-hectare elephant corridor of standing forest in the Cardamom Mountains,” along the border of Thailand and Cambodia.
But WildAid director Suwanna Gauntlett, for whom the Humane Farming Foundation sanctuary in northern California is named, reportedly chipped in $2 million to that project from her personal funds: more than the sum of all earnings from the King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament since the tournament began.