Experts say you shouldn’t ride elephants in Thailand

A tourist was killed, and the animals are often unhappy

On Monday, Scottish tourist Gareth Crowe was trampled to death by an elephant on the Thai island of Koh Samui.

Reports suggest the 13-year-old animal attacked when its handler stopped to take photos of Crowe and his teenage stepdaughter Eilidh Hughes. The handler, or “mahout” survived the attack, and Hughes escaped unharmed.

The animal was reportedly showing signs of “muth”: aggression associated with the mating cycle, that is more commonly referred to as heat. Thai officials on the island deny this was the case.

In an interview with VICE News, Edin Wiek, the founder of NGO Wildlife Foundation Thailand, has suggested that these incidents are likely caused by animals being forced to work when they are not in a fit state to do so.

He said: “It’s always a male elephant on heat. Once they are on heat they lose their temper.”

“A male elephant on musth is like a human on methamphetamine, they are out of control.”

The elephants can cost around $50,000, and are often purchased by handlers unaware of the hidden interest rates. This heaps another burden on the workers, who are usually poor. Wiek suggests that, “not working is not an option, even if the elephant is sick or the mahout is sick. There’s a lot of financial pressure on these people.”

Louise Rogerson, the founder of NGO Ears Asia, a Hong Kong-based elephant conservation charity, comments that, “mahouts work long hours without a day off. Many are forced to overwork their elephant to make enough money to feed their elephant and family.”

Rogerson told VICE News: “The quicker the elephant can learn to paint, do a trick, ride a bike or play basketball for example, the quicker the mahouts have employment at a camp to earn money.”