Documentary urges people to stop riding elephants
By Lin Nan
02:46

Elephant rides and shows are some of the most popular attractions in Thailand. Yet a documentary called "Black Elephant" shows the other side of the business, urging people to stop riding elephants and travel more responsibly. The film has been viewed online millions of times since its release in 2017.

In southeast Asia, mahouts use ankus to hook elephants during the elephant riding. /Screenshot from the documentary: Black Elephant

In southeast Asia, mahouts use ankus to hook elephants during the elephant riding. /Screenshot from the documentary: Black Elephant

Zhang Chaodao, the director of the documentary, and his girlfriend went to Cambodia in November 2015. They went to ride the elephant, thinking it was cool and fun. On the back of the elephant, they watched how the mahout used his ankus to hook the elephant, wondering why he did that and why the elephants followed his instructions only by hitting. They then started to look into the story and found something big.

During the filming of this video, Zhang went to a lot of traditional elephant camps. Once he tried riding an elephant, and when it didn't move, the mahout again tried to use the ankus to hook it.

Zhang Chaodao went to a lot of traditional elephant camps to film the documentary Black Elephant. /Screenshot from the documentary: Black Elephant

Zhang Chaodao went to a lot of traditional elephant camps to film the documentary Black Elephant. /Screenshot from the documentary: Black Elephant

"We heard the sound of the elephant skin being ripped apart by the ankus," Zhang recalled. "The elephant went crazy. It trumpeted like we never heard in our lives. It was so scary. We thought we were gonna die. I could never forget how terrifying it was that the elephant screamed about her pain."

Thailand is one of the favorite destinations for Chinese people. There are always things like riding elephants or watching elephant shows on the to-do lists of the tourists. Zhang hoped more Chinese people could see what's going on behind the elephant riding. However, he said one should not boycott the business but instead recommended the concept of elephant sanctuary in the documentary.

The documentary urged people to go to the elephant sanctuary instead of riding elephants or watching elephant shows, and travel more responsibly. /Screenshot from the documentary: Black Elephant

The documentary urged people to go to the elephant sanctuary instead of riding elephants or watching elephant shows, and travel more responsibly. /Screenshot from the documentary: Black Elephant

"Sanctuary is a popular concept around the world," he said. "(The video) is not for boycotting their tourist business. (Sanctuary) is a new business module which everyone can benefit from." While promoting the sanctuaries, the tourists can have a better travel experience, the businessmen can still make money in Thailand, the mahouts can keep their jobs and the elephants can surely have a better life.

Zhang believes that the consumers are capable of changing the system little by little. "To solve animal problems, in the end, it is all about humans," he said.

(Copyright by Black Elephant. All rights reserved.)

(If you want to contribute and have specific expertise, please contact us at nature@cgtn.com.)