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Watch: Playing polo on elephants may seem exotic, but this video reveals the abuse behind the scenes

The animals are seen being repeatedly beaten with steel-tipped rods.

The irony can’t be missed. The King’s Cup Elephant Polo Tournament in Thailand is held annually to raise money for conservation of elephants. And yet, as the video footage below – released by the People for the Ethical Treatment for Animals – shows, what went on behind the scenes may not exactly advance the cause of protection of the animals.

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The video appears to show handlers repeatedly hitting and gouging elephants with bull-hooks – sharp steel-tipped rods – and violently yanking their ears in preparation for the tournament. It also claims that one elephant was struck approximately 15 times by its handler, until blood appeared.

According to PETA Asia, the only way to make elephants accept humans riding on their backs is “breaking” them to make them afraid and submissive. This involves violence and threats. “Beating elephants who are used in a game they do not understand while claiming to fund conservation efforts for their species is a scam,” said Jason Baker, PETA’s vice-president in Asia, demanding that the tournament or, as he put it, “this fiasco disguised as a fundraiser” be put to an end.

The Anantara Riverside Bangkok Resort, where the event was hosted, released a statement claiming they fired the offending mahouts. Several sponsors of the event, too, have backed out over the years, according to PETA.

William Heinecke, host of the King’s Cup, meanwhile, said the “inappropriate behaviour” of just one caretaker wasn’t cause to cancel the whole tournament. Khaosod English reported him as saying, “We can’t destroy all of the good things that we’re doing with the other mahouts and the other elephants. Part of our programme […] is to educate mahouts how better to treat elephants. If anybody’s got a better programme we’ll support it.”

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