Basically in Suarah there are a lot of package tours into the national park including; jungle walk, jungle jeep safari, elephant rides, elephant baths, bird watching etc. Tourism is big business in the town and the national park is stunning, however elephants are 100% exploited.
The breeding centre itself is government run and often sold as part of package tours in & around the national park. There is a museum there which explains the training methods in detail describing them as ‘fascinating’: Unfortunately I do not have a photo but the description at the museum had a photo of a baby elephant (about 2 years old) tied to a wooden post during ‘training’. The elephants legs were bound together and its trunk was also tied tightly to the post. The training goes on for 1 – 2 months and involves passing flames to the calves skin, restricting food and water and keeping it separated from its mother. There was another poster which showed all of the ‘equipment’ used for handling and training. This included metal hook, stick, chains, special chain for ankle which has nails that dig into the elephants leg.
Next we went outside to see the elephants.
The very young elephants were not tied to wooden posts but some calves which were still quite young were tied up and all of the adults were tied to wooden posts with chains. We were told they are free to go into the jungle during the day, but during this time they have to help collect and carry food back at the breeding centre to eat in the evening and morning. (So it doesn’t sound like they are completely free). Most of the adult elephants were rocking back and forth, the most common movement was to lift the back right leg off the ground whilst swaying back and forth and rocking trunk. We asked why they were doing this and were told ‘it helps with digesting food’ – I’m no elephant expert but I know this is a lie. It looked like they were doing this out of complete boredom and because the chain was so short they were unable to roam anywhere. It was particularly tough seeing the mother elephants chained whilst the youngest calves roamed free. The tourists were running over to pet the calf and the mother could do nothing to protect it as she was unable to move.