Elephant trekking is an immensely popular activity sought by millions of tourists in Thailand, but what was supposed to be a mere vacation turned out to be a nightmare when a 13-year-old elephant named Golf trampled a tourist to death.
Gareth Crowe, 36, was riding the elephant in the Thai resort island of Koh Samui with his teenage stepdaughter. When Golf’s mahout or handler went down to take a photograph of the tourists, Golf attacked him with his tusk and tossed the tourists off his back. The elephant reportedly mauled Crowe and then ran into the forest.
Eyewitnesses told TIME that Golf was showing signs of musth a few days before the attack. Musth pertains to the periodic state where the testosterone levels of male elephants are higher than usual. Elephants in musth can be dangerous because of their heightened aggression.
According to the Independent, Golf grew angry and refused to follow his handler’s instructions. The handler allegedly hit Golf several times.
Crowe’s stepdaughter was immediately brought to the Samui International Hospital, and was later transferred to the island’s Bangkok International Hospital. She sustained minor injuries. The family hails from Scotland.
In an email to TIME, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animal’s (PETA) senior campaigner Ashley Fruno said that the elephant killing the tourist should serve as a tragic reminder of what animals in captivity could do.
“Although tragic, it should come as no surprise when elephants snap and attack. When tourists choose to partake in elephant rides, they not only support the cruelty that is entrenched in this industry, but also risk their own safety.”
World Animal Protection likewise reminded tourists through the Guardian that elephants should not be ridden because most of them underwent horrifying trainings.
“Elephants are cruelly abused to tame them enough so they give rides and perform in shows. Most tourists don’t know about these abuses, or the potential danger they put themselves in. If you can ride it, hug it or have a selfie with a wild animal, then the chances are it is cruel and the animal is suffering.”
Elephant treks in Koh Samui allow tourists to explore tropical rain forests while riding the country’s national animal. Tourists can also get off their elephants and take a refreshing dip with them in Samui’s famous waterfall, Namuang.
However, these treks have been scrutinized for years because of the tour operators’ questionable treatment of the elephants. As early as 2014, tour providers Intrepid Travel and STA Travel already announced that they would no longer offer elephant rides packages.
Despite the staggering amount they’re getting from elephant treks, Intrepid Travel decided to stop the rides as they wanted to focus on responsible travels. They reportedly learned that the number of elephants being poached from the wild had increased because of tourism’s demand for entertainment. In a statement that garnered thousands of online shares, the group emphasized that most operators “give little regard to the elephants’ welfare.”
“Intrepid travellers very much appreciate being better informed and knowing that their travel choice is not causing harm to these extraordinary animals. And we hope that the increased patronage to commendable venues will help encourage others to lift their standards.”
Instead of elephant rides, the company now offers visits to places where elephants are free to roam around. Since 2011, PETA listed four instances of elephants in captivity killing tourists. A video previously released by the group depict how elephants endure beating in order for them to perform tricks for tourists.
[Image via Paula Bronstein/Getty Images]