A horrifying image has shown the brutal harm endured by an elephant after years of carrying tourists on its back.
Animal group Wildlife Friends Foundation in Thailand (WFFT) released an image of 71-year-old Pai Lin, a female elephant who has been left with a disfigured spine after decades of carrying tourists.
In some instances, the aged elephant was made to carry up to six people at a time.
In the rather harrowing picture, the elephant’s back visibly caves inwards. Where the back should round to form an almost dome shape, the spine jags in and is sunken after decades of carrying enormous weight.
Pai Lin spent 25 years being made to work in Thailand’s trekking industry, but has now found sanctuary at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand’s facility.
Riding elephants is an incredibly popular tourist activity in countries like Thailand that are populous with Asian elephants. This also makes it incredibly lucrative work for trekking companies.
Campaign groups such as WFFT have long campaigned to stop local tourist companies from using the animals. They believe the practice exploits elephants.
‘Elephants used for trekking often spend full days carrying the weight of their mahout (handler), groups of tourists, and a heavy howdah (seat),’ the animal campaign group said.
‘This continuous pressure on their bodies can deteriorate the tissue and bones on their back, causing irreversible physical damage to their spines.
‘Pai Lin’s back still bears scars from old pressure points.’
The 71-year-old elephant was rescued by WFFT in 2007 from the Thailand trekking industry.
She is now known as the grandmother to the 22 other elephants who live within the sanctuary.
Elephants like Pai Lin live within the animal group’s enclosures that expand to 44 acres wide and are filled with trees and lakes for them to play.
Tom Taylor, the WFFT’s Project Director said: ‘While elephants may be known for their strength and size, their backs are not naturally designed to carry weight, as their spines extend upwards.
‘Constant pressure on their backbones from tourists can result in permanent physical damage, which can be seen in our gentle Pai Lin.’
‘Most of the rescued elephants here at WFFT have experienced decades of abuse,’ the group said.
‘While we could never comprehend the trauma these animals have experienced in the past, at least they can now live the rest of their lives in peace at our sanctuary.’
The group said they hoped this stark image would encourage tourists not to take part in exploitative trekking industries and to instead opt to support ethical and sustainable sanctuaries.