Elephants Forced to Perform Underwater Tricks in Zoo: 'Enough Is Enough'

elephant underwater tricks zoo
An elephant performing in the underwater show at Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Chonburi, Thailand. YouTube/Khao Kheow Open Zoo

A petition to shut down a zoo at which elephants are made to perform underwater tricks in performances laid on for visitors has gathered over 134,000 signatures.

The Khao Kheow Open Zoo in Chonburi, Thailand, runs shows in which elephants swim, dance and do tricks at the behest of a trainer as visitors watch through a glass tank.

Animal rights campaigners argue that the practice is cruel, and have called on Governor of Chonburi Pakarathon Tienchai to close the zoo down and hand the elephants over to a sanctuary.

"No elephant would exhibit these types of behaviors in the wild, so in order to make them do so for the crowds, trainers use cruel techniques to make sure their charges will do what they say when they say it," the petition posted on Care2 states.

"The training process, known as 'phajaan,' actually translates to 'the crush' during which handlers beat animals into submission so that they will be docile for the public.

"Elephants, like all other animals, were not created for nor should they be used for our entertainment. They have their own will and desires and deserve to live a life free from cruelty—preferably in the wild where they belong.

"Circuses, magic shows, zoos and aquarium spectacles that use live animals reduce living, breathing beings to objects. It's not only cruel, it is wrong."

The petition concludes: "The Khao Kheow Open Zoo has no business doing elephant shows. In fact, they have no business having elephants period. Facilities that allow the animals in their care to suffer for profit should no longer be given a pass. We must stand up and say enough is enough."

Signatories from all over the world are demanding that local officials close down the zoo and hand the elephants over to a sanctuary. At the time of writing, there were 134,445 signatures of the petition with a target of 140,000.

Martha U., a signatory from Illinois, U.S., wrote in a message: "I stand against animal cruelty in any way, type, or form. These precious animals are called wild life for a reason, they're meant to be in the wild and free!"

Margaret U. from Texas wrote: "I love animals so much, and to see this breaks my heart."

Khao Kheow Open Zoo did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

In August, the zoo's director Attaporn Sriheran defended the elephant shows against criticism from animal rights groups.

"The show is considered exercise for the elephants. Normally they go into pools to play with water anyway," Sriheran told Khaosod English. "The zoo then designed another pool for the elephants to swim and at the same time allows children and visitors to learn about their behavior as well."

Dawn Carr, director of vegan corporate projects at animal rights campain PETA UK, told Newsweek: "Captive elephants—whether caught in the wild or born in captivity—are torn from their families, forced into a life of total servitude, and denied everything that's natural and important to them for tawdry Asian tourist traps like this swim encounter.

"Such establishments promote blatant cruelty to elephants while fuelling their illegal capture and trade—shrinking fragile wild populations—and condemning captive animals to what is basically slavery. PETA urges everyone to stay away from any 'attraction' that exploits animals."

This article was updated to include a comment by PETA.